Protecting Great Lakes watersheds

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Integrated watershed management needs to consider environment, economy, and society.

Conservation actions save soil and money – recent media reports highlight importance of watershed management

A number of recent reports in national media, local media, and agricultural media underline the importance of conservation actions that preserve topsoil, build soil health and protect water quality.

These articles also underline the importance of integrated watershed management.

Some highlights of some of these articles, and some local comment, are in the articles below.

Public support needed to improve soil health and protect Great Lakes, recent media reports suggest

Building soil health and planting cover crops to benefit water quality require partnerships and public support, according to two media reports in the May 2023 issue of The Rural Voice.

Editor of The Rural Voice, Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot, wrote an article in the May issue of the magazine titled ‘Healthy soil is its own reward ….’ The article reports on a presentation, by Vanastra-area farmer Rick Kootstra, at the Rural Landowner Workshop held in Mitchell, March 23.

In the article, Rick Kootstra talks about partnering with the conservation authority staff to put projects into action.

“What I have done over the last four to five years is make good working relationships with these folks to plant trees, berms, wetlands and work with the Huronview Demonstration Farm,” he said. “If we pair together, it will go a long way to making Ontario a better place.”

Some of the ways he practices stewardship on his farm include strip tillage and maintaining vegetative cover through the planting of cover crops.

Building and preserving soil health is in everyone’s best interest, the local landowner says. As the cost of land has grown, preserving valuable topsoil from erosion is more important than ever.

“ ... (It) doesn’t make economic sense when soil floats down the river, blows off the field or when organic matter measures less than two per cent,” he said in the article.

Erosion is a fact of life with heavy rain events but he says, in the article, that soil in the strip-tilled field is protected and better able to absorb high volumes of water.

Cover crops, he said, are important to reduce erosion, retain nutrients and control weeds.

Columnist says protecting soil, water is shared responsibility

Columnist Mel Luymes, who works in agriculture and conservation and blogs at, wrote a second report in May 2023’s The Rural Voice. In her ‘Shared responsibilities in the headwaters’ column, she recounts a trip to Chesapeake Bay in April and “ ... every field I saw across the Delmarva Peninsula through Maryland had a cover crop on it. Every. Last. One..”

An important reason there has been such positive cover crop adoption, she says, is public support and a generous incentive program for planting cover crops.

Water quality issues, including phosphorus and algal blooms, is a concern in the Bay just as it is in Lake Huron. The columnist cites local examples of cooperative work to protect Lake Huron. 

She talks about the example of the Garvey-Glenn watershed, north of Goderich, part of Lake Huron’s southeast shore. About 25 agricultural producers, working with Maitland Conservation staff, have planted cover crops, completed minimum-till and erosion control projects, and buffered 90 per cent of the drains and watercourses in that watershed.

She also talks about developing a stewardship program in Perth County. The county may not directly touch the Great Lakes but, she said in her column, the headwaters of five major rivers go to Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.

“While the population of Perth County is less than 40,000, their activities impact well more than 400,000 people that live just along these five rivers ... not to mention the millions that live around the lakes,” she wrote.

“Water quality is the sum of millions of decisions on millions of acres upstream,” she writes in her column. “This means there are millions of opportunities to improve it.”

She says people in towns and villages can improve stormwater management, wastewater treatment and reduce lawn fertilizers. She said there are opportunities in rural areas for wetlands and woodlots, buffers on streams and ditches, and better management of soil, manure and fertilizer. 

In summation, she writes, we have a “ ... shared responsibility not only to those downstream whom we don’t even know, but to millions of people in the generations coming after us who we will never get a chance to meet. It is a responsibility I’d like us to take very seriously.” 

For the original article and column, please read The Rural Voice.

To find out about grants for water quality projects in your area, contact your local conservation authority staff.

Local producers taking part in demonstration project to plant rye cover crop after corn for potential soil health, water quality benefits

It is partnerships between landowners, local conservation agencies and funding partners that makes it possible to take positive action on the ground, said Hope Brock, Healthy Watersheds Technician with Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA). She says this is echoed in the recent media reports in the May 2023 issue of The Rural Voice.

Another example of agricultural producers working to build soil health and to protect water quality is a new rye after corn demonstration project. Producers with the Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association (HSCIA) are demonstrating the use of cover crops following corn harvest.  It is at this cold and wet time of the year that partnerships help people to understand next steps for improving over-winter cover on agricultural lands, Brock says. 

The Huron County Soil and Crop Improvement Association and its members have been adopting cover crop practices for both the water quality and soil health benefits that they provide.

Given that most producers are able to seed a cover crop after wheat, HSCIA would like to investigate the feasibility of planting a late-season rye cover crop after grain corn. If successful, more producers may take interest in planting a late-season cover crop, which would help to increase overwinter vegetative cover and reduce runoff from spring storms/melts.

In the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority watershed, where overwinter cover is tracked, one would expect a minimum of 30 per cent overwinter cover given a corn-soybean-wheat rotation. Rates, however, typically range from 11-35 per cent (Ausable Bayfield Watershed Report Card 2023). This project will help demonstrate the effectiveness of rye as a late-season cover crop.

There are 12 agricultural producers involved in the trial. They will be planting their soybeans shortly if they haven’t already. The next step is to conduct soybean plant stand counts within 21 days of planting. Producers are keeping track of their soil conditions at planting time and any herbicide applications they need to make. HSCIA plans to share results when the trial concludes.
Trees and wetlands save money during flooding, according to recent report

Nature-based solutions (NbS), such as trees and wetlands, are needed to address flooding, according to a recent report.  

The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo has found we sometimes look to ‘grey’ infrastructure to address our environmental issues when ‘green’ or nature-based solutions or interventions hold many of the answers. The new report, published by the Canadian Standards Association in April 2023, calls on governments to use nature-based solutions. The report is called Managing Flooding and Erosion at the Watershed-Scale: Guidance to Support Governments Using Nature-Based Solutions.

“(Nature-based solutions) need to be considered for river flood and erosion management with the same rigour as grey infrastructure solutions,” the report says.

The report, by Joanna Eyquem, recommends:

  1. Develop consistent provincial approaches to integrated watershed management. “Canada already has good practice approaches for watershed management that support implementation of NbS for flood and erosion risk management,” the report says. “These approaches need to be strengthened and supported in Ontario …” … (Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities) … “ … and extended to other provinces.”
  2. Fund river flood management to high-risk watersheds. “Funding for river flood and erosion risk management needs to be directed to watershed-scale strategies that address prioritized high-risk areas or projects that have been identified by such strategies,” the report says. “This approach would support meaningful appraisal and implementation of measures (including NbS) that address underlying causes of flooding and erosion while achieving multiple benefits.” 
  3. Routine consideration of nature-based solutions for river flood and erosion management.

Wetland creation, restoration, and enhancement is a nature-based solution. It’s powerful to hear the testimonials of local landowners who are developing wetlands on their properties, said Angela Van Niekerk, Wetlands Specialist at Ausable Bayfeld Conservation Authority (ABCA). These projects help their local backyard creek and the Great Lakes. One landowner, after working with the conservation authority to create a wetland, said it’s exciting to see the wildlife come to the wetland area.

“The kids and I spend a lot of time watching the pond come to life,” the participating landowner said. “This past weekend we found a baby Painted Turtle along with plenty of frogs and toads ... my son is in his glory! We have a pair of wood ducks nesting as well.”

Ruthanne and Mels van der Laan tell about constructing their mini-forest and wetland and the joy it brought for them and their family:

“Several years ago, we contacted Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority to see if it was possible to re-establish four acres of what was once pastureland for our Texel sheep. The Ausable Bayfield team came and did all the work and turned the four acres into attractive wetlands. The wetlands attract wildlife such as deer, ducks, and a variety of birds. There is a muskrat house in the pond. There are lots of frogs, snakes and a resident Heron and many wildflowers to admire. Neighbours stroll through at any given time just to admire the changes that have taken place over the years. With Mels doing his daily trek and checking what needs to be done, such as trimming trees and keeping the pathway mowed, it is so beautiful to look at even in the winter. The family is taking over from us and it is perfect to leave a legacy for them and the grandkids will remember Opa taking them outdoors and talking about the environment and all of nature’s wonders.”

There are programs to help landowners enhance wetlands and to plant trees

To find out about grants for water quality projects in your area, contact your local conservation authority staff.