Flushing Out the Truth: Roncesvalles needs a Living Sidewalk!

Wastewater is the very definition of an unsexy subject, but the issue seems to be attracting more and more attention from environmental activists and regulators. The attention explains the urgent need for Roncesvalles Renewed’s proposed Living Sidewalk, which would transform Roncesvalles from a concrete funnel flushing stormwater down our combined sewers into a massive absorption pad, with healthy trees sucking up huge amounts of water and reducing the frequency of raw sewage overflows  into our lake.

Ecojustice - Flushing Out the TruthIn June, Ecojustice (formerly the Sierra Legal Defense Fund) published a report on municipal sewage overflows in Ontario, called Flushing Out the Truth. According to the report, in 2006 Toronto released over 284 million litres of raw sewage into our lake. Ecojustice also created a report, called Green Cities, Great Lakes, which recommends green infrastructure to prevent Combined Sewage Overflows. Among its recommendations is street trees to soak up rain flow; i.e.: a Living Sidewalk! CTV did a story on the Ecojustice report a few weeks ago.

And last week, federal environment minister Jim Prentice announced new rules governing wastewater discharges by municipalities. “Each time we close a beach or issue a boil-water advisory, we are reminded that we must do more to protect our water resources,” Mr. Prentice told the CBC. He said the new rules, to be published in December, would set national standards for wastewater treatment facilities, and would require new monitoring and reporting of sewage discharges. Municipalities wishing to upgrade their facilities will be able to draw from the $33 billion Building Canada infrastructure fund.

Despite the increased focus on wastewater pollution, the Roncesvalles Living Sidewalk project is not yet adequately funded. The BIA will be contributing nearly all its capital savings towards the project, and this will receive municipal matching funds under the City’s BIA Capital Cost-share program. This program is normally used by BIAs for branding opportunities or decorative features, but the Roncesvalles Village BIA believes the Living Sidewalk will provide far more substantial benefits for the community and the city than say, themed banners with the BIA logo. Meanwhile, Roncesvalles Renewed is still waiting for news about its Live Green grant application, a process which was delayed by the strike. But even if the grant is approved, there remains a major funding gap.

The BIA and its community partners had hoped the remaining shortfall would be made up by funding secured through the federal infrastructure stimulus fund. However, the Living Sidewalk was not among the 500 or so projects applied for by the City last June. Councillor Gord Perks said that information critical to the application was not yet available, and unfortunately the strike meant that this information remained unavailable by the application deadline. However, Councillor Perks says he hopes federal funding for the other projects will free up some money for the Living Sidewalk. It will require some tricky manoeuvring for the City to move up the schedules of all these projects in order to fulfill the federal government’s March 2011 project completion requirement, and so we hope the City has better luck with this second application than it had with the first. But even if most of these projects are approved (and not a nickle of federal infrastructure  stimulus cash has yet been spent in Toronto), there remains the sticky issue of funding the City’s new fleet of streetcars, which might be expected to command much of any money freed up. It would be a bitter disappointment for the Roncesvalles community if the Living Sidewalk got lost among all these complex funding acrobatics!

The BIA will keep everyone posted about the funding applications. In the meantime, please write Councillor Gord Perks to show your support for his efforts to secure full funding for the Roncesvalles Living Sidewalk!

EARLIER:

The measurable benefits of urban trees (May 21, 2009)

Western Waterfront Master Plan aims to clean up Sunnyside Beach (April 1, 2009)

What stormwater management is really about (Hint: rhymes with “spit”) (March 19, 2009)

The challenges of greening Roncesvalles (May 29, 2008)