The city's lakes have seen a dramatic recovery since local mining companies started cutting back on their air emissions 30 years ago, said the honorary chair of this year's Vital Signs Report.
John Gunn, director of the Vale Living with Lakes Centre, said sulphate levels in Clearwater Lake, located in the city's South End, have decreased dramatically since 1973, while the pH level has gone back up. Nickel, copper and aluminium levels have also decreased in the lake.
Gunn was the keynote speaker at the Oct. 2 launch of the report. He said fish populations have also dramatically increased at a number of local lakes. For example, in 1990, McFarlane Lake had only four types of fish — now it has 12
Those are facts found within the 20-page 2012 edition of the Greater Sudbury's Vital Signs report, titled the City of Lakes Edition, a document coined as Greater Sudbury's annual check-up. It's put together by the Sudbury Community Foundation.
Loons are also an indicator of the health of lakes, Gunn said.
“The loon story is a heart-breaker,” he said.
“Mother loons cannot successfully produce baby loons that fly south unless there's something to eat on the lake. They simply land on the lake, try to produce chicks, they're stuck there all summer, never put enough weight onto the chick, and they abandon them and fly south without them.
“At Daisy Lake, near the Coniston Smelter, in the 20 years of monitoring the loon population, once the pH in the lake rose, and once the fish came to the lake, the loons were able to make a business.”
That doesn't mean the city's lakes are out of trouble yet, though, Gunn said. Warmer temperatures caused by climate change are causing cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, to appear in area lakes more often.
The average mean temperature in Greater Sudbury has increased from about 3 C in 1955 to about 4.5 C in 2010, according to information in the Vital Signs report.
We're too careless in our building codes and our land practices.
director of the Vale Living with Lakes Centre
Because the city doesn't have “that beautiful winter season to right all the wrongs and start all over again,” there needs to be stricter controls on nutrients such as phosphorus which leach into local lakes, Gunn said.
“We're allowing far too many nutrients to enter our lakes,” he said.
“We're too careless in our building codes and our land practices. We're not brave enough to insist that drinking water be protected or lakes be protected. The consequence is that if we don't, we'll lose the use of our waters more and more frequently.”
Gunn advises measures such as increasing the current city requirement of a 10-metre buffer between buildings and the shoreline to 30 metres.
“John Gunn's address this morning really highlights that climate change is going to affect everything,” said Carmen Simmons, executive director of the Sudbury Community Foundation.
“It's going to affect our water, plants and animals. We really do need to pay attention to it. My job at the Foundation is to really bring these issues to light, and I'm hoping very, very much that our city leaders will start focusing their attention.”
Kelly Strong, Vale's general manager of Ontario operations, was one of those on hand for the report's launch. Vale has sponsored the report's production for the past four years with a $200,000 grant.
“It's nice to see where we've come from in the '70s to where we are now,” he said. “Really, it's making not just industry, but the community aware of what's happening if you look at his stuff on the lakes and some of the nutrients entering the lakes.”
As for Vale's part of the equation, Strong said he's sure the company's $2-billion atmospheric emissions reduction project will improve the health of the city's lakes even more.
Making an effort to focus some of the report on the city's many lakes is more important, Simmons said, "because it's going to seriously affect our quality of life.”
Appropriately, the 3,000 hard copies of the report are printed on recycled paper.