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Stop the Drop expanding water level campaign in 2014

By Whitney Neilson, Special to The Enterprise-Bulletin



COLLINGWOOD — Concerned lake users filled every seat at the Collingwood Town Council meeting on Monday, as the executive director of Stop the Drop gave three suggestions to council regarding Georgian Bay’s dropping water levels.

“Stop the Drop has two objectives; the first is to engage the public all around the Great Lakes in key lake-oriented issues,” Colin Dobell told councillors. “The second thing we’re trying to do is make public opinion more visible and more accessible to elected representatives.”

His first suggestion was to work with the 20,710 Stop the Drop members to recruit more people who use the bay, both residents and visitors, and then work with the members to access them a couple times a year. Dobell would like to form panels with the members based on their interests, in order to speak to the right stakeholders.

“The second suggestion that would not be very difficult for you, would be relatively inexpensive, and we think you could do it fast, but it sure would start the conversations and the thinking on a local level, would be to choose a couple of key indicators that you as a municipality and a community select to help you get an idea of what’s happening in real time,” he told council.

In January, water levels in Lake Michigan-Huron broke the record low set in 1965, prompting concern among users of Georgian Bay and surrounding areas.

Dobell said the community could choose indicators that are science-based; for example tracking and reporting the water levels.

“But the economic ones are the interesting ones. You could get interesting indicators that map onto your economic levels,” he said. “Marina revenues, hospitality revenues, shoreline real estate indicators.

“These things would not be hard to do and they would then help you when you’re trying to represent the impact of water levels on your community in the future.”

He said the third suggestion is a more complicated process. The campaign members wants to bring together groups to participate in an adaptive planning process for the community. He said climate change is going to hit this area, and the subsequent risks and opportunities will be significant.

“Those groups that get out and think about it in a structured way and make some plans for how they want to respond to it are going to lead, they’ll be ahead of the game,” he said. “Their population, their residents will know what’s going on, will not argue amongst each other. The others will not.”

He also said despite all the recent rainfall, that isn’t enough to bring lake levels up to historical average. He encouraged council to not think the water levels are fixed, and understand the recommendations made by the International Joint Commission in April are still valid and need to be pursued.

“The challenge and the fact is this lake is still 50 centimetres, half a metre, below its long-term average at a time where every other Great Lake has (returned or exceeded) its long-term average.”

He said the Stop the Drop recruitment campaign this summer received a significant response from the older generation, but also concern from an increasing number of young people. He said 2,000 people signed up this summer to say they use the lake at Collingwood, whether they live around it or come from out of town to visit it.

“This is not a Georgian Bay problem. This is a southern Ontario problem.”

He said by calling this is a Georgian Bay problem, it limits the public representatives who can be accessed, which is the opposite of what he wants to do.

“What we’re finding is every single riding in Ontario has our members in it already and that’s going to have some important impacts.”

He said next summer the group plans to grow the Georgian Bay membership to 30,000, replicate the Stop the Drop campaign from Sault Ste. Marie to Sarnia, and increase engagement across all demographics.

Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd commended Dobell for his commitment to this issue.

“I think what’s unique about what you’re doing is you’re looking at a partnership, not so much lobbying provincial or municipal or federal government,” said Lloyd. “You want us to be involved, which we should be as community leaders. Yes, maybe the water levels are coming back up somewhat, but what about my grandchildren and their children some day in the future?

“We need to do what we can to protect what we have today and in the future make it better.”


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