Monday, July 30, 2007

Don Watcher's 2nd Blogiversary

For what it's worth, I have now been contributing to this blog for two years now. On July 30, 2005 I posted some pictures about a brush fire in the Don. Since then I have made 286 posts averaging nearly 3 posts per week. The blog gets about 250-300 hits per week. While I don't get many comments they have generated referrals and contacts for several other blogs, a couple of newspaper articles and one video documentary. I like to think that "Don Watcher" has contributed to the education about the Don River and its watershed and the issues that confront it.

I still enjoy posting and I expect to continue for at least another year. We'll see how it goes.


The Lower Don Trail will be re-opening on Saturday August 11. The trail has been closed for vital construction work to increase the flood capacity underneath the railway bridge just north of Lakeshore Blvd. The completion of this work (and the construction of a berm on the west side of the river) will mean that the restrictions on construction in the West Don Lands will be lifted allowing that development to proceed.

The first two estimates of May then July were not met due to construction issues mostly due to scheduling difficulties timing between separate sub-projects. The August 11 date is the first time that an actual date has been mentioned so I am crossing my fingers and announcing it. Here's hoping that in two weeks it will be a go!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Riverdale Ponds Get a Breather

Aerator installed at Riverdale Farm

The Lower Don has very few ponds so the presence of the two ponds at Riverdale Farm offers a welcome respite for passing waterfowl and other wildlife. The prevailing theory is that they are oxbow lakes, created when the Don River used to meander over the floodplain, before the so-called Don Improvement project which straightened the river in the late 19th century.

During the period when they were part of the old Riverdale Zoo, water was pumped in via a fountain in the upper pond. The ponds were home to captive geese and swans. In the mid 1970s the zoo was relocated to a large facility in eastern Scarborough in the Rouge River watershed. Since then the ponds have languished, mostly unused except as a dumping ground for koi and red-eared slider turtles.

The ponds were until recently fed by tap water but about five years ago this flow was shut off. While the result is more natural, the low flow situation has resulted in the ponds completely covered by duckweed by mid summer. In addition a large amount of decomposing leaf litter at the bottom of the ponds has resulted in anoxic conditions which means that very little aquatic life inhabits the ponds.

Enter the idea for the pond aerator. Basically it blows air bubbles into the water. The theory is that the air will partially dissolve into the water which will not only make it more livable for aquatic organisms but also accelerate the decomposition process of the accumulated leaf litter. Currently the aerator is only turned on at night.

Don't expect any overnight changes. The current conditions have been created by several years of neglect - it may take a year or two before any changes become noticeable. While not the greatest solution, it is still a solution, ie. something to be tried. And you can't fault them for that.

Aerator is turned on only at night, thus the poor quality of this photograph

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Other Construction Project

Location of Construction Project, just west of the Ontario Science Centre in E.T. Seton Park

While I have been focusing recently on the projects at the mouth of the Don, I have also been keeping my eye on another construction project on the west Don that involves a minor reroute of the river. As I reported in January, the project is a year long effort to stop the river from eroding a steep embankment that threatens to undermine a neighbouring factory at the top of slope. The project involves three phases, dig a new river channel, open up the new channel and close down the old channel, and shore up the eroding bank.

The northern path has been widened to accommodate construction vehicles.

As of July, it appears the project is behind schedule as they are still working on the first phase. The new channel is almost finished. The southern path which includes two bridges has been temporarily closed and the northern path has been reopened, although access may be restricted as they are also using this for construction vehicle access.

New pedestrian bridge on southern path

A new pedestrian bridge has just been installed over the new channel. When I visited the site in early July the new channel has been excavated but they are still testing its ability to retain and hold the river. Some construction equipment has been move to the opposite bank but the river is still using the current channel. I'll keep an eye on it and update you when anything new occurs.

Construction crew pumps water into new channel. I noticed the next day that it had drained away. As of early July the new channel hasn't been opened.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Don River Flood Videos

No sooner did I post my first Don River video on YouTube than I get the opportunity to post my second (and third) video, at the same site! The torrential downpour Thursday morning resulted in a rapid up-swelling of the Don River. By the afternoon there was a lull in the weather so I hopped on my bicycle and zipped over to the valley. It occurred to me that a video at the Pottery Road weir would make a nice contrast to the video I took last week.

As you can see, I wasn't able to use the same vantage point as it was submerged. The video dramatically displays the power of the river and how a heavy rainfall (or wet weather flow event in the planning lexicon), can change a relatively placid watercourse into a raging torrent.

The video easily encapsulates the problems facing the river, brought on by the intensive urbanization of the watershed. As water surges through the small streams that lead into the Don, they scour the banks and stream beds of mud and debris - and it all ends up here in the Don.

My third video is from the same time. While I was watching the water I saw this big tree approach. I took this video of the tree going over the weir, the river handled it just like another twig.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Don River Video

Most of the videos I have seen for the Don have been about mountain biking or bicycle stunts in the Don. I have also found a some pretty amateurish stuff posted on YouTube including "The Don River Project".

Alas, nothing on the natural environment, until now. Using my new Canon Powershot A530 which has a video function, I am experimenting with some of my own content. My first effort involves a minute long film that looks at the weir just north of Pottery Road. A dam for an old mill (now long gone) was blocking fish travel. The TRCA modified some years ago by placing step like rapids for 100 m downstream. This allows fish such as Atlantic Salmon to venture north to spawning grounds (that is if the river ever becomes clean enough to support them!).

"Don River Cascade" is 61 seconds long. Just click on the big video icon and it should display in your browser or your default media viewer.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Still Waiting for Path Reopening

View of construction from east side of Don River. This picture is taken from just underneath the DVP offramp to the Eastern Avenue bridge.

We are still waiting for the reopening of the Lower Don Trail. Last I heard was sometime in July. The project manager is on vacation until next week so I won't get an update until then. I visited the site today and the barriers are still up on the path. On the east side of the river is the Don Valley Parkway but there is a narrow verge between the expressway and the river that you can walk on. Gingerly avoid Canada Goose droppings I walked as far north as I could get and took some pictures. As you can see the path still has a temporary wooden railing so it doesn't look good for an early opening. I'll keep you posted about any news.

I blogged about this project in December, 2006 and June, 2007.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Landslide at the Brick Works

Location of destabilized slope on the western edge of the Brick Works Ponds (click on map for a close-up)

I was passing by the Don Valley Brick Works on Friday. One of my favourite access points is from the Moore Park Ravine. As you come south along the Beltline Trail, there is an informal path that you can take to the north west corner of the Brick Works Quarry park. From here you can enter the pond area.

This time I skirted the western edge where another path takes you along the top of slope between Mud Creek and the ponds. I went this way because about three weeks ago I noticed a large amount of woody debris clogging the channel where Mud Creek flows. In addition the diversion pipe that lets water flow from Mud Creek into the upper pond in the quarry was almost completely silted up. I notified the city about the situation and left it there. The pipe was clogged up last year and they quickly unplugged it so I figured that similar action would be taken soon.

This time no such action has been taken. In fact the situation is much worse. The debris clogging the channel has now moved downstream and is clogging the storm drain. Debris litters the top of the bank where the creek has overflowed. On the quarry side water has flowed quite vigorously into the Brick Works. The slope, already shaky due to its shale makeup has partially collapsed. Parts of the remaining slope look very unstable and further collapse is imminent. Unless something is done soon the entire slope will collapse into a heap of rubble.

Also the diversion pipe is still silted up. Very little water flows into the ponds. With the dry weather we have been getting the past month the ponds are at the lowest level I have ever seen.

I called the city again and let them know about the situation. Hopefully something will be done because a bad situation has now gotten worse.

Diversion pipe completely silted up. The pipe is about 30 cm in diameter. Very little water gets through now.

Debris clogged storm drain. Water used to flow through here directly into the Don River during a rainstorm. Now it is overflowing into the upper pond.

Failed slope. The land here was once a planting site, now completely buried. Patio stones anyone?

Debris is now being washed into the ponds.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Day at Beechwood

Kalli and Patti plant Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) beside the pond

This year I am leading a stewardship team at the Beechwood Wetland. Once a week, usually Wednesday evenings, we visit the site to perform maintenance activities. We remove invasive species, plant native trees, shrubs and plants and perform a variety of monitoring activities. I took a few pictures of our activities last night.

Richard, Yukako, and Lise plant Blue Flag Iris (Iris Versicolor) and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

In addition to the planting, we also removed some invasive plants such as White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba) and Dog-strangling Vine (Cynanchum rossicum)

Small minnows (species unknown) inhabit the pond

Do you know how hard it is to take pictures of fish? While I was taking pictures of the planting I noticed some tiny fish in the pond. You can just barely see some centimetre long fish in the upper left hand corner of the picture. I circled two of them (click on the picture for a better view). No idea what species they are. Also I wonder how they arrived in the pond since it would be very difficult for a fish to swim into the pond from the river. Perhaps the eggs became attached to the bottom of a visiting duck and were deposited here.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) in full bloom. These plants were planted during the original restoration and are spreading throughout the site.

The team gets educated about pollination monitoring

This year we are starting a new program that will study flower pollinators. This is a citizen science program that monitors types of insects that pollinate flowers. Basically, you stand in a area near some flowers and wait for insects to arrive. You then count them, measure them, and identify them (as best you can) for about 20 minutes. That's all it takes. The program is looking for new volunteers. All you have to do is visit the website, download the material and print out the forms. You need a clipboard, a ruler, a pencil, and a magnifying glass and your good to go!

Cheryl, the stewardship program co-ordinator, gives a short lecture on the monitoring protocol

The Pollinator study manual

This year the stewardship program is active at six sites, four in the Don Watershed and two in the Humber. If you're interested in volunteering, you can visit the stewardship website for more information.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

TRCA Slope Erosion Control Project

Charles Sauriol Preserve highlighted in red (click to expand)

I just found out about this project. No idea at this point where in the preserve this project is located but I will keep you updated.


Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has commenced a study regarding the development of alternatives to remediate ongoing slope erosion occurring along two
sections of the East Don River within Charles Sauriol Conservation Area in the City of Toronto.

TRCA invites you to participate in this study, which is subject to approval under the Class Environmental Assessment for Remedial Flood and Erosion Control Projects. Your input will be incorporated in the planning and design process for this
project. If you wish to be involved in this study, or to receive further information, please contact:

Moranne Burnet-McDonnell
Supervisor, Project Planning
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
1 Eastville Avenue
Scarborough, ON M1M 2N5
Phone: (416) 392-9725
Fax : (416) 392-9726

Subject to comments received as a result of this study and the receipt of necessary approvals and funding, TRCA intends to proceed with the construction of this project.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Michigan Lily

Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) click for a close-up

I was passing through the Nordheimer Ravine when I glimpsed a small swatch of colour. I stopped for a closer look and noticed this beautiful flower. I was instantly suspicious because there are very few orange native flowers but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this is a Michigan Lily. The Toronto area is at the northern edge of its range. Some people say that they have to plant exotics in their garden because native flowers are so boring. They obviously haven't seen this one!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Misty Don

Don Valley, looking north from Bloor Street viaduct

I was cycling across the Bloor Street bridge last night on my way back from stewardship at Beechwood Wetland when I noticed that mist was starting to collect in the valley. Entranced by the sight, I stopped to take a few panoramic shots. Click on the photos to get a more detailed view.

Another view, towards the northwest

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

MTB Race in Crothers' Woods

Race route through Crothers' Woods (click to expand)

I attended the mountain bike race in Crothers' Woods on Sunday July 1. This was the first scheduled race in this part of the Don and it was a modest success. There were only about 50 competitors, about half of what was expected. The numbers may have been affected by putting it on a long weekend.

There were three heats starting at about 10 AM. The course was slightly different than originally planned. There was no loop around the snow dump which was canned because the bailey bridge across the river is too narrow for two lanes of bikes.

The course started at the bottom of the treatment plant road and wended its way through Sun Valley and the Ridge Trail. The finish line was at the top of the hill which I thought a little sneaky. The longest race was six laps each lasting about 15 minutes and it was all wrapped up by noon. Most of the competitors were adults although there one youngster who was only thirteen.

Apart from the low number of competitors, there weren't enough race marshals. I shooed a couple of people off the course during the race who said they didn't see any signs posted although there was yellow police tape marking the route. The one marshal I did see up by the Bayview Avenue access point near Nesbitt Drive commented that there weren't enough marshals.

I was a little disappointed that the local mountain bikers didn't come out to represent themselves. This would have been a prime opportunity to advertise their group. Events like these don't happen very often and they could've put something together with a little effort. They could also have volunteered as marshals to help out with the race. The city did have a booth with the usual collection of flyers and pamphlets as well as a couple of staff to answer questions.

I haven't talked with Ziggy Martuzalski (the race organizer) yet about his thoughts so it remains to be seen whether he will organize another race. I'll keep you posted.

Getting organized in the Loblaws parking lot

Racers wheel around a corner in Sun Valley

The finish line at the top of a tough climb

Monday, July 02, 2007

City Documents July 2007

I haven't been posting any document notices recently because committee agendas for the first half of 2007 have been pretty sparse. Here are a couple of interesting documents from the July meeting of the Parks and Environment Committee that directly or indirectly affect what happens in the Don Valley.

Front Yard Tree Planting: Policy for increasing the urban canopy in Toronto. When it comes to trees you can't separate the ravine lands from the streets - it's all interconnected.

People, Dogs and Parks Strategy – Off–Leash Areas: This is a contentious issue. Several off-leash areas have been allowed in ravine lands but now the city is looking at establishing off-leash areas in regular "grass and swing" parks. It is the Task Force's position that no new off-leash areas be allowed in ravine areas. We need to be vigilant in case anyone gets the idea that they can park an off-leash area in a ravine to 'protect' a nearby grassy park.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Building Bridges

Out with the old...

In with the new...

Putting in the foundations

I spent the day with the mountain bikers building a bridge in Crothers' Woods. The trail crosses many wet gullies. Some of them have been bridged with whatever was lying around, ie. old railway ties, broken up concrete, and even old pieces of carpet. In this section the old construction was deteriorating badly. Whenever it rained the trail became very wet.

So we removed all the rotting wood and replaced it with a brand new cedar plank bridge. We also put in a weeping tile system to direct the water away from the path and into the gully. The bridge is a very simple design but it is very sturdy and should last for many years.

When we finished it some wag suggested we call it the "Trisha Kaplan-Freed Memorial Bridge" after a recently departed city worker (departed as in left for B.C.). I don't think she'll mind. Besides, she'd have to come back to T.O. to complain :)

The "Trisha Kaplan-Freed Memorial Bridge"

Another view. The weeping tile system is on the left side of the trail underneath some broken up rocks.