By BF NAGY
Why is Kew Beach sometimes closed for swimming? The simple answer (not the whole story) is that our storm and sewage infrastructure in the Beach area, and in Toronto in general, is about 100 years old, and in some places, crumbling.
Ancient storm and sewage systems that haven’t yet been upgraded don’t work well for today’s dense urban landscape and severe weather events. They can cause untreated sewage to flow into Lake Ontario. Inspectors take readings, and beaches get closed.
People who live near the lake know that during big storms, homeowners suffer wet or flooded basements and Toronto Water often sends trucks down to pump out overflowing public catch basins.
When I worked at the City I learned that we like to point fingers, and indeed, certain planning decisions or developer actions have made things worse. Thus Toronto has been assertively evolving storm water rules around downpipes, driveways, parking lots, and pavement.
RECYCLED PERMEABLE SURFACING
One modern solution for managing storm water is the use of permeable surfacing.
There are some good products available, made from recycled plastic bags and rubber tires. They help with new rules, and can save money, when compared to hard-surface options. One such product was installed recently in a parking lot for the Beach United Church on Wineva Avenue near Queen Street East. Another was installed in the Kew Gardens Park.
In the parking lot, a product called Ecoraster Bloxx sits on top of about one foot of clear gravel, according to Ellise Gasner, whose company supplied the surface system.
It consists of hard plastic ground stabilizing frames, into which rubberized ‘pavers’ fit, creating a smooth surface. The finished product provides a high filtration rate and almost no storm water runoff.
“It comes in different colours too,” said Ron Fitton, a clean energy hero who helped install the new parking surface. “So you don’t have to paint or re-paint the lines for the parking spots.”
Gasner explained that for new construction on commercial-size projects it usually competes well with conventional paving solutions on cost, coming in at 30 or 40 per cent less, partly because of the reduced need for drainage infrastructure. “The water is managed where it lands, with very little runoff into sewers.”
The Toronto planning department has increasingly high expectations for runoff, prohibiting it or requiring catch basins and other expensive options.
You can clear permeable surfaces with a snowplow just like pavement, and there’s usually less salt needed in winter. At the George Brown College Casa Loma campus, they found that because the water drains better as snow melts, there is less ice formation. “In the first winter they only used salt once. So it saved them money on maintenance too.” The Bloxx system is made from 100 per cent recycled materials and comes with a 20-year guarantee.
“It’s perfect for new projects but not as competitive cost-wise if you’re replacing a residential driveway. You would have to be motivated for environmental reasons, due to the cost of breaking up and removing pavement. But it’s beautiful around the house,” said Gasner.
GROUND STABILIZATION AT KEW GARDENS
At Kew Gardens a different system was used for a different purpose.
Parks department and other vehicles often drive up to the concert stage or baseball bleachers, creating a dirt path that was becoming an unsafe mud puddle. The City wanted to stabilize the ground without using a hard surface, so they put down some gravel with a different Ecoraster product on top, then put the dirt back into the recycled, very hard plastic frame. It makes driving heavy vehicles in the park safer, without introducing more pavement.
Between green buildings, electric vehicles, clean electricity generation and products like these permeable surfacing products, we already have all the solutions we need to defeat climate breakdown. Let’s keep it green!
BF Nagy is a long time Beach resident and author of a new book, The Clean Energy Age. He has interviewed more than 700 experts and written 155 articles on clean energy. The Clean Energy Age is available online, from your favourite bookseller or bfnagy.com. It contains expert solutions, success stories and top 10 lists of climate actions for homeowners, business managers, government people and others.