Partnering with UWindsor researchers will deepen understanding of how greenhouse stormwater retention ponds affect the surrounding environment, says the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG).
Together with the Agricultural Adaptation Council (AAC), it has provided $202,500 to the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) professors Christopher Weisener and Scott Mundle to support their collaborative research in monitoring nutrients in retention ponds in the Kingsville-Leamington area.
“By partnering up with the university we are able to understand how the stormwater ponds function at the nutrient and microbial level,” says Justine Taylor, OGVG’s science and government relations manager. “As an organization we don’t have the capacity to do direct research, but we are able to leverage our research budget to gain the University of Windsor’s expertise to help solve problems and identify solutions — all of which is really valuable.”
Dr. Weisener says the research grant will provide an opportunity to assess the risk of these ponds.
“We are in a real gray area with respect to watershed management and understanding nutrient control in our watersheds,” he says.
The ponds are required to manage the significant flow of rainwater off the roofs of local greenhouses. As there is a large amount of rainwater entering the watersheds, the stormwater ponds are put in place to prevent the drainage ditches from being overwhelmed, as well as to provide a level of water quality control.
“We want a better understanding of how these stormwater retention ponds are operating,” says Nathan Warkentin, energy and environment analyst for the OGVG. “We know why they are important and required, but at the same time they don’t always act as expected.”
Weisener says it would be great if the results allowed them to develop an action plan that could be utilized by individual greenhouses in order to improve the environmental performance of their ponds.
“Each of the greenhouses are slightly different with their own pressures and stresses in dealing with their pond management,” he says. “If there are nutrient issues that we are able to identify, we can then come up with a detailed approach for each of the individual greenhouses.”
Dr. Mundle notes that the majority of retention ponds work very well: “Then there are the outliers that are working less great, but it’s all about developing a path for individual operators to follow in order to gain environmental improvements.”
The primary nutrient Weisener and Mundle are monitoring is phosphorus. Both the United States and Ontario have committed to reducing phosphorous loads into Lake Erie, and the Leamington tributaries have been identified as a priority area of focus.
“It is really critical for us as a greenhouse sector to do our part and make sure that we minimize the amount of phosphorus leaving our properties,” says Dr. Taylor. “Our drinking water and the majority of water we feed our plants comes from Lake Erie. For that reason, it is important that we do what we can to protect our natural resources.”
This project was funded in part through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a program involving a $3 billion investment by federal, provincial, and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture and agri-food sector. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the Partnership in Ontario.