Developing Strategies to Engage Agriculture and Recreation Along the Lake Huron Shoreline

A Community Based Approach to Solving Water Quality Issues


Dr. W.J. Caldwell, Professor,
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Dr. Karen Landman
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Innovation and Risk Management Branch, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
New Direction Research Program

executive summary
Controversy between the lakeshore and agriculture communities over water quality along the Lake Huron shoreline has received national media attention. The validity of the water quality concerns are noted in a number of reports( The Lake Huron Centre for Costal Conservation, Nearshore Water Quality, 2004; Shelly Bonte-Gelok and Douglas Joy, Huron County Surface Water Quality Data Study, 1999). Related issues include the posting of beaches, DNA testing, manure spills, restrictive municipal by-laws and litigation. While there is much debate concerning the relative impact of livestock production, septic systems, municipal sewage by-pass, stormwater discharge and wildlife and bird on Lake Huron water quality there is no debate concerning the need for action. Society tends to share the belief that water quality is a priority and action is needed to make improvements. This research advocates a community based response to water quality related issues. There are three related initiatives including septic tank re-inspection, risk assessment (including the development of a manual for lakeshore residents and rural non-farm landowners) and collaborative planning to facilitate communications. The research will help to guide and integrate the work of others, while providing an important monitoring and evaluation function. This monitoring will allow for appropriate revisions that can turn local initiatives into province wide deliverables. Specific details are as follows:

Septic System Re-inspection
In the midst of the controversy over the contributions of agriculture to water quality along the Lake Huron Shoreline the role of septic systems is sometimes lost. Septic systems have the potential to contribute to poor water quality along the shoreline. This component of research builds on and contributes to the initiatives of the Huron County Health Unit to tackle this issue.

Landowner Stewardship guide for the Lakefront Rural Non-Farm Landowners
The Environmental Farm plan has had success throughout Ontario helping farmers to select and integrate BMP’s into their operation using a risk assessment and management approach. a similar program would benefit rural non-farm residences. This project will develop a rural non-farm equivalent and test its uptake as par of a pilot.

Collaborative Planning
Issues facing the farm community in proximity to the Lake Huron Shoreline are often exacerbated by poor communication. Frequently the residential community along the Lakeshore does not understand agriculture and the agricultural community does not understand the cottage community. This component of the research offers hope in dealing with alleged water quality issues through improved and objective facilitated communications.

goals and objectives

To develop and evaluate a focused comprehensive program to address near shore water quality in Lake Huron. The following objectives have province wide application and will have been applied and evaluated through the Lake Huron case study:

  • To develop and implement a septic system re-inspection pilot (farms, rural homes and cottages).
  • To identify and apply strategies to enhance communication between the cottage and agricultural community (collaborative planning initiatives-using circle process).
  • To develop a stewardship manual to assist rural non-farmers to identify and implement best management strategies.
  • To pursue a program of land owner contact (farm and non-farm) to encourage the adoption of improved environmental practices and to work with the County of Huron to promote their water quality incentive program.
  • To work with provincial staff to ensure that the research has a positive contribution to evolving provincial trends and policies.