News / Toronto

Wild rice could help protect Lake Ontario shorelines

Ryerson program looking to partner with Indigenous wild rice farmer as part of a larger plan looking to provide solutions to urban freshwater challenges.

Lake Ontario shorelines are not facing an immediate danger, but Ryerson researchers believe it’s wise to plant wild rice and other natural species to prevent erosion and ensure good quality of water.

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Lake Ontario shorelines are not facing an immediate danger, but Ryerson researchers believe it’s wise to plant wild rice and other natural species to prevent erosion and ensure good quality of water.

An ancient crop traditionally grown by Indigenous people could be one of the remedies to protect Lake Ontario shorelines.

Environmental researchers at Ryerson’s Urban Water Centre have begun discussions with an Indigenous wild rice farmer in Peterborough to use the plant to support local wetlands.

The effort is part of a larger strategic plan looking to provide solutions to urban freshwater challenges. It comes at a time when environmentalists are particularly concerned over the future of the Great Lakes protection programs, especially after Donald Trump recently proposed to cut 97 per cent of their funding.

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Ryerson Urban Water Centre’s executive director Nicholas Reid said creating wetlands along the shores would help improve the water quality of surface runoff by catching sediments and removing toxins. Wetlands become especially important during heavy rainstorms that can cause erosion and transport nutrients from the land into the lake.  

“We’re just trying to figure out what natural plants can be used in engineered wetlands that can cohabitate well with the ecosystem and can survive through four seasons,” he said, noting wild rice is one of many species being studied for this purpose.

Not only would such plants help promote water quality and contribute to effective stormwater management, they’d also be an important addition to the city’s green diversity for wildlife, he added.

Lake Ontario shorelines may not be in imminent danger, but it’s crucial to keep searching for better ways to protect a body of freshwater that’s “as large as the eye can see,” said Reid.

“I don’t think we should ever take it for granted,” he said, drawing the analogy of passenger pigeon – birds that went into extinction following massive human activity. “We could run out of this water or we can make it unsuitable if we don’t take care of it and be good stewards.”

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