Voices for the Watershed

Voices for the Watershed: Environmental Issues in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Drainage Basin

Gregor Gilpin Beck
Bruce Litteljohn
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Voices for the Watershed
    Book Description:

    Voices for the Watershed is a unique look at the singular and ecologically inter-connected region of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence watershed, including the headwater and upland regions. With contributions from experts from the United States, Quebec, and Ontario, this book offers an accessible introduction to the issues affecting the quality of our most essential and precious of natural resources - clean, fresh water - from headwater regions downstream to the Great lakes, the St Lawrence river, and ultimately the watershed's outflow to the sea.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6816-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. x-xi)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    Monte Hummel

    On a canoe trip in the rugged country north of superior, I once portaged over a long ridge indicated by a dotted line on our topographic map as the “Height of Land.” The line marked where a drop of rain had to choose whether to flow north through the Arctic watershed to James Bay, or south through wild rivers to the Great Lakes. There I was, poised like that drop of rain, casting my gaze in opposite directions over vast drainages that have accounted for so much history. As it turned out, I headed south, to travel the waters that...

  5. SECTION 1 Voices for the Watershed
    • Prologue: Bridging the Knowledge Gap – Science and Society Working Together for Environmental Understanding
      (pp. 1-3)
      Bruce Conn

      I will never forget the first time i donned my scuba gear and slipped beneath the water’s surface at Tibbett’s Point, where the majestic St Lawrence River flows out of the blue depths of Lake Ontario. Down below, the river’s floor literally crawled with life – rich, diverse, lovely. The abundance and variety of clams, snails, insects, sponges, sculpins, and other fish was astounding. More than ever before this experience impressed upon me the beauty and complexity of the ecosystem that I had been studying for so many years. And more than ever before, my gut longing was to rush...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 5-15)
      Bruce Litteljohn and Gregor Gilpin Beck

      In may 1535 french master mariner jacques cartier set sail from St Malo in Brittany. By command of his king, he was to discover the western lands beyond Terres Neufres, which we now know as Newfoundland.

      Cartier’s voyage took him into uncharted and dangerous waters. By mid August, however, he had navigated his way deep into the estuary of the St Lawrence River. Proceeding upstream, he and his crew paused to admire beluga whales near Tadoussac. In September they arrived at the magnificent site now occupied by Quebec City. Continuing to battle strong currents, Cartier took less than a month...

    • Headwaters and Upland Regions
      • Highland Headwaters: Getting a Good Start along the Height of Land
        (pp. 19-38)
        Bruce Litteljohn

        Thoughts of headwaters call up the wonderful imagery of Bill Mason’s film adaptation ofPaddle to the Sea. The tale begins in the hard-rock headwater hills north of Lakes Superior and Nipigon. Here a lovingly carved model canoe, complete with a native sternsman named Paddle, begins its long voyage through the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence to the Atlantic.

        Produced by the National Film Board of Canada and based on the classic children’s story by American writer Holling C. Rolling, this brilliantly filmed romance is a journey through the world’s greatest freshwater system. It has engaged the minds and...

      • Sane Friends of the Mad River: Downstream from Vermont
        (pp. 41-44)
        Elliott Gimble

        About 225 km (140 miles) southeast of Montreal, Vermont’s Route 100 cuts through a narrow, wooded reserve called the Granville Gulf State Scenic Area. Tourists and residents alike are attracted by spectacular autumn colours and picturesque views along this two-lane highway. Those who take the time to stop can sense nature’s power in Granville Gulf: the wind rustling leaves, the small but steady work of water gurgling over rock. Signs of human development seem distant.

        Few probably realize that they stand along the edge of a watershed, that ridge of land separating distinct drainage basins. Rain falling on the south...

      • Over the Gunnels in Algonquin: Clean Waters – Straight from the Source
        (pp. 45-47)
        Jeff Miller

        Of the two thousand lakes in Algonquin Park, the one most appropri 45 ately named is Source Lake. In fact, “Source” could easily be an alternate name for Algonquin, Ontario’s premier provincial park. This three-thousand square mile undulating dome is the starting point of a dozen small rivers, navigable by canoe and kayak, which flow into the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River system.

        It is here, some 150 miles north of Lake Ontario, that the Madawaska gets serious and starts. It gets spunky right away, then loafs around in a moose and beaver swamp before chugging and wiggling through...

      • Getting Our Act Together: The Greening of the Châteauguay River Watershed
        (pp. 49-53)
        Serge Bourdon and Phillip Norton

        From its headwaters in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, the Châteauguay River begins as a broad network of tributaries which wind their way north into Canada. Wild, rushing trout streams and the spectacular 37 metre (120 foot) High Falls on the u.s. side gradually yield to a wider, slower river in Quebec.

        The Châteauguay’s historic main branch passes beneath the Powerscourt covered bridge (built in 1861), past the Battle of the Châteauguay National Historic Site (War of 1812), past some of the richest dairy farms in the province, and through small towns and parishes which bestow upon the...

      • Fouling up on the Farm: Agricultural Non-Point Sources of Pollution
        (pp. 55-59)
        Halett J. Harris and Val Klump

        Over 10,000 years ago, as the earth warmed and the great glaciers receded, meltwaters raced across the landscape through forest, meadow, valley, and wetland. Mere trickles at first, they coalesced to form brooks, streams, and rivers that filled the lakes of the most spectacular freshwater system in the world: the Great Lakes–St Lawrence watershed. They traced upon the land an intricate network that still feeds these lakes and rivers today, like the complex, finely branching root systems of a mighty oak or pine. And like the roots of a tree, this network of rivulets to rivers steadily nourishes the...

      • Wetland Lost—Farmland Claimed: Ontario’s Holland Marsh Experiment
        (pp. 61-66)
        J. Douglas Blakey and Bruce Litteljohn

        As rivers go, the holland is not spectacular. Its main branch rises near the town of Schomberg, less than an hour’s drive north of downtown Toronto. From Schomberg the river snakes its way east and north, flowing sluggishly through a broad valley for some forty km (twenty-five miles) to arrive at Cook’s Bay, the southernmost extremity of Lake Simcoe. From there its waters follow part of Champlain’s exploratory canoe voyage of 1615 and then work their way through the lakes and the St Lawrence to the sea.

        Compared to the St Lawrence, the Holland looks like a dull, meandering creek....

      • Wild Rice, Midges, and Cranes: The Importance of Wetlands for Creatures Great and Small
        (pp. 67-70)
        Scot Stewart and Bruce Litteljohn

        They are not mountain spires slicing the sky, not deep canyons singing a river song. They are flat and mostly covered by water. Subtle rather than spectacular, they are places we have taken for granted. Many people view them as wastelands. We have drained them to create farmland, filled them to build towns and cities, and used them to bury our garbage, poisons, and unwanted materials. In most places, over half of them are gone, and in others 70 to 95 percent are lost. They are the Great Lakes and St Lawrence wetlands.

        Flat, soggy, and often thick with aquatic...

      • Covering the Acid Rain Story: The Insidious Drift of Air Pollution
        (pp. 73-75)
        Gregor Gilpin Beck

        During the 1980s acid rain was featured prominently by the media. Since then, however, decreasing coverage has been given to this environmental issue. Greenhouse emissions, ozone depletion, and rainforest clear-cutting – important issues in their own right – now grab more headlines. They also attract much of the limited funds available for environmental research. As a result, many people have assumed, incorrectly, that acid rain is no longer a serious problem.

        The sources and effects of acid rain have been well documented. Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants released from automobiles and industry combine with moisture, oxygen, and light...

      • The Media Agenda: A Journalistic Perspective on Environmental Reporting
        (pp. 77-79)
        Michael Keating

        Most people get their environmental information from radio, television, and newspapers, so journalists have played a key role in shaping the way we see and think about our environment. The media are the connecting rod between actions in the environment and reactions by the public. Since the 1960s the media have regularly confronted the world with ugly images created by a careless industrial and consumer society. Pictures of sewers, smokestacks, and leaking tankers defined the environment in the public mind. Photographs and stories of dead fish, ugly sewer discharges, and garbage-laden lakes and rivers shocked the public and politicians into...

    • The Great Lakes
      • Reflections of a Paddle Pusher: Retracing Historic Canoe Routes to the Upper Great Lakes
        (pp. 83-85)
        Alec Ross

        I grew up a city kid in Toronto, and when I was in grade school the Great Lakes meant geography lessons and weekend ferry rides across Toronto Harbour to Centre Island. There I could play at an amusement park with Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and a miniature train. If I wandered south, beyond the rides and the cotton-candy hoopla, I would soon reach the far side of the island where Lake Ontario – huge, blue, and dotted with screaming gulls – stretched towards the United States in the hazy distance. As a child I was amazed by the lake’s size...

      • Poisons up the Food Chain: The Effects of Bioconcentration on Eagles, Ospreys, and Cormorants
        (pp. 87-89)
        Peter Ewins

        Thirty years ago, a summer boat journey along the shores of the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River would have been very different from today. No bald eagles, ospreys, or double-crested cormorants. The reason? Breeding populations of these top predators had been all but eliminated by the far-reaching effects of toxic chemicals. Since the early 1970s, when use of many of the most harmful chemicals was restricted, breeding numbers of these three species have increased. Today, one can see again these magnificent predators along many shorelines – indicators of improving ecosystem health.

        Eagles, ospreys, and cormorants accumulate toxic contaminants...

      • Rescuing Native Fish: Restoration of Lake Trout Populations in the Great Lakes
        (pp. 91-92)
        Thomas A. Edsall

        The lake trout is the largest predatory fish native to the Great Lakes, St Lawrence, and many other cold northern waters in the United States and Canada. It is long lived and slow growing, weighing seven kilograms (fifteen pounds) when it reaches ten to fifteen years, although individuals many times that weight have been recorded. Because of its large size, historic abundance, and predatory habits, the lake trout formerly exerted a major influence on the structure and stability of cold-water fish communities in the Great Lakes.

        The size and rich flesh of lake trout made it a popular commercial fish,...

      • Making the Lakes Great: The Role of Remedial Action Plans
        (pp. 95-97)
        Gail Krantzberg

        In 1909 reasonable people recognized that water does not abide by politics. The Boundary Waters Treaty signed by Canada and United States was the first attempt to protect the shared waters. More recently, the two nations developed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and made a commitment to restore and maintain the biological, chemical, and physical integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. The 1987 Agreement specifically called for the development of Remedial Action Plans (raps) at forty-two Areas of Concern where deterioration was particularly pronounced. raps were to embody a systematic, comprehensive ecosystem approach to restoring...

      • Developing Sustainability: Conservation Action in the Lake Superior Basin
        (pp. 99-104)
        Gail Jackson and Bob Brander

        Lake superior has been called the crown jewel of the Great Lakes. This comes as no surprise to those who have paddled the coast or camped upon the many beaches scattered along more than 4000 km (2,700 miles) of shoreline. There are areas here that appear to be in a primordial state, seemingly untouched by humans. Lake Superior inspires a sense of awe and wilderness, and commands respect.

        Human habitation and development have not been imposed upon Lake Superior as much as on the other Great Lakes. National, provincial, and state parks acknowledge the natural beauty and splendour of the...

      • From Apathy to Action: Environmental Issues in American Heartland Cities
        (pp. 107-111)
        Rae Tyson

        To grow up along the great lakes in the 1960s was to witness an ecosystem near death. The decade was a blur of closed beaches, burning rivers, foul water, and dead fish. Obituaries for Lake Erie appeared regularly in magazines and newspapers nation-wide.

        To cover the Great Lakes as a reporter in the 1970s and 1980s made the situation seem worse. The biennial water-quality report of the International Joint Commission (ijc) pinpointed so many areas of concern that the u.s. coastal maps – from the western tip of Lake Superior in Minnesota to the eastern end of Lake Ontario in...

      • The Crush of Megalopolis: Crowding Nature in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe
        (pp. 113-119)
        Brad Cundiff

        Cradling the western end of lake ontario, the Golden Horseshoe represents Canada’s industrial and commercial heartland. It stretches along two hundred kilometres (125 miles) of shoreline and includes a large, rapidly urbanizing surrounding area. The name “Golden Horseshoe” is itself full of the 1950s-style optimism of industrial progress, recalling that decade when the connections between Toronto, Hamilton, and Niagara were pulled tight by the building of the country’s first expressways.

        The new arteries brought with them a development style and attitude that eliminated the once-clean edges of the Horseshoe’s urban areas: suburbs, strip malls and industrial “parks” spilled out along...

      • Stories from a Big City Stream: Restoring Toronto’s Don River
        (pp. 121-126)
        Gregor Gilpin Beck

        Rain streams relentlessly against the windowpane of my Toronto home as sparse traces of an exceptionally mild winter are washed away. Once again the temperature belies this January date. While a walk in the ravine is an enjoyable diversion from winter in the city, an oppressive heaviness hangs in the air. Footing on the trail is treacherous: slick, raw earth is exposed on hill slopes denuded of vegetation, and vapours steam from sheets of ice along this small tributary of the Don River.

        Short weeks earlier, with a northern chill and fresh snow hushing the city, the flow in the...

      • Decline and Recovery: Restoration of Hamilton Harbour
        (pp. 129-133)
        Louise Knox

        In the late 19608 and early 1970s, as the industrial world was awakening to the damage it was doing to the environment, I was studying twentieth-century poetry. Most of what I read conveyed the alienation and loneliness of poets who did not seem to feel connected to people, or to nature, or to any spirit outside their own. Their work reflected a difficult era in western history, during which two world wars and very rapid industrialization had destabilized communities and caused more pain than most people were inclined to recognize.

        This was the era in which ports and harbours around...

    • The St Lawrence River
      • Ecosystem in Peril: The St Lawrence River
        (pp. 137-147)
        Louis-Gilles Françoeur

        The history of the st lawrence river began 60 million years ago, when the same tremendous geological forces that separated the continents carved out the river valley. The geography of the region as we now know it, however, was shaped by glaciers just seven thousand years ago and emerged with the retreat of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet and the Champlain Sea.

        For 6,500 years the people who made their home along this 750 kilometre (450 mile) river lived in harmony with the other species in this 840,000 square kilometre (325,000 square mile) ecosystem – an ecosystem comprised of one of...

      • Environmental Sleuths: Biological Indicator Species Help Track Pollution
        (pp. 149-151)
        Jean Rodrigue, Louise Champoux and Jean Luc DesGranges

        More than thirty thousand chemical Compounds are in use within the Great Lakes–St Lawrence River watershed. Eight hundred are considered toxic, and many of these are known to be highly persistent. Environmental improvements have been made, however, on many fronts recently: better production methods and safer chemical compositions, increasingly widespread treatment of waste-water, the banning of highly toxic pesticides such as ddt and dieldrin in the early 1970s, and tighter regulation of pcbs. Nonetheless, there are still traces of heavy metals, organochlorine pesticides, and pcbs in the waters, sediments, plants, and animals throughout the watershed – all the way...

      • Alien Invaders: The Trouble with Zebra Mussels and Other Exotic Species
        (pp. 153-157)
        Gregor Gilpin Beck

        Standing on shore and gazing across the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes–St Lawrence watershed, it is difficult to fathom the complexity of ecological relationships existing below the surface of these waters. The aquatic communities that have co-evolved over millennia are not readily visible and are therefore poorly understood. The native plant, invertebrate, fish, and other species form an intricate web of life.

        Exotic species can wreak havoc on the native flora and fauna. Whether the establishment of these aliens is accidental or intentional, the ultimate effect is a form of “biological pollution.” It is true that many...

      • The Montreal Archipelago: Biodiversity in Quebec’s Urban and Industrial Core
        (pp. 159-161)
        Michel Letendre

        Imagine the following scene, worthy of a first prize in photography. Against the background of a spectacular sunset, a duck is feeding with her brood at the edge of a marsh. A few metres away a muskrat nibbles on reed stems, and a great blue heron perches motionless, preparing to capture its prey. In contrast, the reflection on the water shows a very different picture in the background: skyscrapers and merchant ships in the Port of Montreal.

        Rare are the large cities in North America like Montreal, Laval, and Longueuil where it is possible, just minutes from downtown, to observe...

      • Balancing Act: Ecotourism along the Shores of the St Lawrence
        (pp. 163-166)
        Dominique Brief and John Hull

        Communities worldwide are promoting tourism to create employment, generate capital, and establish greater local control of activities in efforts to preserve natural and cultural resources. Ecotourism is booming, and regions throughout the Great Lakes and St Lawrence watershed are taking part. Communities on the Kanawake Native Reserve and the Lower North Shore of Quebec illustrate public and private efforts to build a healthier economy and environment through ecotourism.

        The Kahnawake Native Reserve is located along the south shores of the St Lawrence, nestled between the island of Montreal and the town of Châteauguay. Recently efforts have been made within the...

      • Blocking the Flow of Rivers: The Impact of Dams on Nature
        (pp. 167-169)
        Fred Whoriskey

        Dams bring economic benefits, but they also have high environmental costs. This dichotomy lies at the core of the disputes arising around the construction of virtually every new dam. Groups that value the services and economic opportunities which dams create will always be in conflict with other groups that value the services, and economic opportunities, and beauty provided by river systems in their natural state.

        Dams collect water in reservoirs during times of plenty and make it available for use when precipitation is scarce. They are a boon for the construction industry, at least during their building phase. The water...

      • Great Rivers Meet: Stirring Life and Wonder in the Saguenay—St Lawrence Marine Park
        (pp. 171-175)
        Nadia Ménard

        The st lawrence river is a life-line reaching into the heart of a continent. Born from the Great Lakes and headwater regions, it changes as it flows from freshwater to the ocean. The estuary is that transition zone where freshwater gradually mixes with seawater in tidal rhythms, but here, at the mouth of the Saguenay River, the St Lawrence meets the sea with force. The upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters at the head of the deep Laurentian channel is responsible for the marine environment that sustains the plentiful life found in the area. The meeting of these water masses results...

    • Watershed Perspectives
      • Bi-National Citizen Action: Grassroots Environmentalism in the Watershed
        (pp. 179-181)
        John Jackson

        Citizens’ groups have long been the driving force for the protection and clean-up of the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River. In every community across this vast and varied watershed, citizens are the watchdogs who first see the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in the environment. And they are the ones who launch the battles to force their fellow citizens, governments, and polluters to act more responsibly.

        Over the past decade these people, who work primarily through volunteer grassroots groups, have joined forces basin-wide. They ignore political boundaries, and thus force governments to try to make a stronger effort to cooperate...

      • Sustainable Development: Balancing Environment and Economy
        (pp. 183-186)
        Michael Keating

        For most of our history we humans had little impact on our environment. That changed with the dawn of agriculture about ten thousand years ago, which started the clearing of land and the building of cities and civilizations. Since the industrial revolution and the human population explosion began three hundred years ago, we have changed the environment on a regional, even global scale. In recent decades a growing number of people realized that pollution and resource depletion were hitting unacceptable limits. They saw that most of these problems were caused by the normal functioning of many of our businesses and...

      • Frog Reflections: The Ecosystem Approach to Conservation
        (pp. 187-189)
        Anne C. Bell

        The plight of any living creature is upsetting, but somehow the misfortunes that befall one’s close neighbours seem that much more so. One of the more disturbing conservation issues of recent years has been the decline of northern leopard frogs, those cold-blooded, infinitely gentle familiars of my childhood. Although I witnessed the occasional martyrdom of many individuals over the years – blown up with firecrackers, impaled on fish hooks, butchered in biology class – only recently have I needed to worry about the very survival of their kind. The northern leopard frog is one of many frog species worldwide whose worldwide...

      • Lessons from a Woodpecker: Parks and Protected Places
        (pp. 191-195)
        Jerry Valen DeMarco

        For many, a childhood in the country creates a lifelong concern for nature and natural landscapes. Perhaps it is strange therefore that as a dedicated nature advocate, I grew up in the shadow of industry – in Windsor, across the river from Detroit. We on the Canadian side were without many of the social and economic problems facing urban communities in and around Detroit, but our natural communities were and still are in a comparable position. Southwestern Ontario’s natural habitat has been razed perhaps more severely than any other in Canada.

        For those of us drawn to the natural world...

      • Learning the System from Water: Life Lessons of Environmental Education
        (pp. 197-202)
        Kevin J. Coyle

        In many homes, putting the children to bed is a nightly ritual. And, most often as not, the little ones want to be carried. But how many parents ever stop, mid-lug, to think about exactlywhatthey are carrying? Indeed, our young ones (and ourselves) are fully 70 percent water. For many this means they are made up largely from a local river or lake. To make this point, I sometimes introduce my own children or grandchildren by naming the rivers that occupy their bodies–the Ohio, the Delaware, the Potomac. This illustrates the simple point that we are more...

      • Why Rivers? Why Watersheds? Life-Lines of the Ecosystem
        (pp. 203-218)
        Peter Lavigne and Stephen Gates

        Ed abbey had a way of getting right to the point. When we cut tO the chase about environmental protection, no matter what the issue, a river is always there. Like the veins and arteries connecting the life-giving functions of the heart to the human body, rivers comprise the ecological infrastructure of the continents. They are the roads and pipes of our natural systems, and the veins and arteries of the watershed body.

        Rivers’ life-transporting functions help to determine the health and ultimate survival of the entire watershed ecosystem. Rivers provide natural valley flood storage and wetlands and habitat for...

  6. SECTION 2 Finding a Voice
    • Revelations: The Evolution of an Environmental Ethic and Career
      (pp. 223-255)
      Michael Keating

      I grew up in a small lakeshore town. My first memory of water is one of a great golden expanse of sand meeting the sharp blue dividing line of the lake. I can still feel the July sun burning my shoulders and the cool water on my ankles where the blood flows close to the skin.

      I have always lived in a town or city that was built on a great lake or river. Over time I learned that the waters have many moods. Like humans, they seem to have both a bright and a dark side. On good days,...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 257-268)
    Bruce Litteljohn

    The geographical and topical magnitude of this book is unusual. In fact, during the past five years as it took shape, the editors sometimes felt that the arrival of the millennium was small potatoes compared to bringing this work to completion. For while the book may not be as deep as Lake Superior (406 metres or 1,330 feet at its deepest) or the Saguenay River fiord (320 metres or 1050 feet) it is very broad in terms of the huge area covered and the variety of subjects tackled.

    It began more narrowly.

    In June 1994 a call came requesting that...

  8. Appendices
    • Conservation and Environmental Organizations
      (pp. 270-274)
  9. Selected References and Notes
    (pp. 276-288)
  10. Author Biographies
    (pp. 289-293)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 294-295)
  12. Index
    (pp. 297-301)