Tuesday, September 23, 2014



Onward, water soldiers, marching as to war
With no politicians facing them before
No mayor, MPP or MP to lead against the foe
Backward from the battle, see their banners go!

Coming soon to your beach, lake and river, the latest natural menace that you never heard of...before it cuts your feet, chokes your water and becomes a problem in cottage country and just about everywhere else.
You should regard water soldiers as the sharp-leafed aquatic plants that possibly will echo the menace that zebra mussels became in just two decades, transforming great expanses of cottage country for all time.
Water soldier plants resemble giant pineapple tops. So imagine a pineapple field floating just off your cottage, an invasion so thick that it chokes everything and anything, including kids playing in the water and the daily fun of the family swim to that big rock.
The menace is pretty enough to have been used in water gardens in Europe and parts of Asia.
The picture I have used comes from a British gardening site selling the plant on the Internet.
But settling back on cushions in Cairo, puffing on a water pipe and enjoying the sight of water soldiers and water lilies floating in the pond beside the bar is one thing, having to capture and burn 25 plants off my dock when I want to go swimming is much more galling.
How it got here is a mystery. Some idiot in my Kawarthas corner around Burnt Point south of Havelock probably thought it looked pretty in their landscaping and then got bored and discarded it. The last huge menace, zebra mussels, hitchiked from Europe in the ballast water of a foreign freighter that dumped it illegally in Lake St. Clair.
So water soldiers are believed to have first started anchoring here in 2008 in the shallows or being swept along by the vigorous currents of the Trent River, which right now is being whipped into whitecaps around my point as I type. So I haven't yet done my regular dubious harvest.
Several years ago, at what unfortunately was the last annual picnic of the North Seymour Ratepayers Association, there were a commendable presentation and brochures on water soldiers, which as a rookie member of the association executive I dutifully spread to my neighbours.
It seems that the Trent from Highway 30 near the hamlet of Trent River down to the big drop in the river known as Healey Falls is the only place in North America where wild expanses of water soldier sare found.
The distinction of living on a unique stretch of river will not last long, judging from the explosion in growth of water soldiers around me since I first learned about it. It was three years ago when I phoned a hotline about colonies I had found near Hardy Island. Two men showed up and worked away for a couple of days. Now there are many expanses of water soldiers in backwaters. The growth may be exponential.
Despite the obvious fact that anyone who has been paying attention has known about water soldiers for several years, if you sift their reaction, it has come out of the blue of the Trent for politicians.
I phoned a friend and fellow cottager worried about the new threat to kid him about emails and letters he had received when he tried to sound the alarm. He once was in the CBCs upper reaches and all the major figures in news and current affairs cared about his attention. Now he is just another cottager so that when he raises this important issue with local MPP Lou Rinaldi. he is supposed to be content with a canned reply from an assistant.
Trust me, Lou, you're never going to make it from the deserved back bench above parliamentary assistant unless you work harder in the constituency.  As Editor of the Toronto Sun and veteran columnist, I used to tell assistants that unless I heard from the boss immediately, I would feel free to say anything I wanted about the pol or the issue.
Which is the way I feel about this since I have made fruitless calls.
The only good guys so far are the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Why a good private organization has to devote more on a comparative basis to this puzzles me when you consider what the feds and natural resources ministry could do.
 Something called the Invasive Species Centre and Trent University is involved too, which is understandable since the university has to do something to make it stand out from being just another provincial university for those who couldn't get into a major one.
It does have a nice campus, and a river which I predict at the present rate of fighting water soldiers will have students wondering what those strange prickly plants are in just a few years. The most optimistic estimate is it will take a minimum of five years to control the infestation, but then there are gloomy predictions it will take an eternity.
Why, cottagers wonder, didn't someone spray Reward sooner, the herbicide that is supposed to kill or lame the soldiers? (You know, the herbicide that deliberately is made so expensive and wrapped in red tape that you feel you're a criminal if you try to use an ounce.) Why the delays? It appears that the federation has put up the most money, $35,00 plus donations, and $50,000 or so is a trifling sum when you consider the possible consequences, but there seems to be a lack of will as well as funds.
The focus has been to map the menace, not to kill it. The worry from the few bureaucrats who seem to have got off their ass long enough to actually go and inspect is to contain it above the triple locks and the falls at Healey.
You know, protect Campbellford and the little generating station that is downstream. And keep it from the lower reaches of the Crowe. (You have to protect the Crowe, you see, if you are an environmental bureaucrat, because a former environment minister loves her cottage there and you don't want to drag the NDP into this fight considering that so far the Liberals don't give a damn and the Tories are still licking their wounds.)
Of course, they have failed to contain the menace, which is understandable considering the Trent is a major river and the authorities have never kept the water level so high for so long.  Floating islands of tangled vegetation have been a menace all year (I wrote a blog "Dangerous Islands of Trent River" on May 20) and this huge gush of water through the locks and dam of Healey Falls carry battalions of water soldiers.
Since water soldiers are perennial, even if we control them they will continue to be an additional problem because in cottage country, we already have a huge water weed problem due to the curse of zebra mussels which have cleared the water and allowed all that sunlight to stimulate all those weeds. Even the fishing has changed. Then we have the fertilization from the lax policies controlling the pollution from farms even though a female premier has stopped playing at being a farmer and agriculture minister so that voters will forget she's from T.O.
There are parts of the famous Trent-Severn Waterway that have never been so choked with weeds. I can't boat or even canoe in stretches that were still passable 15 years ago.
If it gets much worse because the red tape boys and girls screw up the fight against the latest problem, and it really does spread to block even the huge intake pipes of water filtration plants and stretches of public beach, I can see tax strikes in cottage country.
After all, we are mad already at Hydro overcharging and the residents in the towns and villages getting more than their share of the municipal tax dollar, particularly when you add in education since cottagers can't use the schools.
If most cottagers in affected areas were to withhold or delay their municipal tax installments in unison, I imagine something constructive would happen this afternoon.
Nothing has so far. Just MPs even ignoring meetings, MPPs having some flunky reply with a canned excuse, and me burning the latest crop of water soldiers.


A phone call from Trent Hills Mayor Hec Macmillan assured me that the spraying of herbicide to attack water weed infestations is definitely going to be done this fall and that he is convinced it really is a menace.
He doesn't dispute the argument by me and residents further up the river in Cedar Shores that if nothing major is done now to fight the growing menace, we will have a new environmental blight on our hands.
We discussed the election, of course, and I said we were voting for him, primarily because of his stewardship of my stretch of river (where his family had a cottage.)
 I was there at council that night when all that stood between quick approval in principle of a shoddy scheme to cover Nappan Island with cottages and a golf course fertilized with human waste was Hec's common sense.
The mayor demonstrated that the mysterious developers really hadn't done genuine planning but had just stolen fancy propaganda about other schemes from the Internet and hoped to stampede politicians and officials long enough to get their flimsy proposal approved and then sell the package for a huge profit to a bigger outfit.

Before I completed my mail-in Trent Hills ballot, I phoned friends for advice since they live there and I have worked with them covering politics so I trust their opinion
To say they were hostile to Macmillan is putting it kindly. They hate him for his stalling and bully-boy tactics on the new bridge, which is the most controversial decision in the sprawling municipality for decades.
Then they say he's too close to the Nicholson brothers, who aren't exactly the most popular businessmen around. I can understand why after one of them tied up roughly to my trees so he could fish right from my point, then when I objected boasted about how much richer he was than me and then predicted I would die of cancer within the year.
The weirdest encounter I have ever had at my cottage, and when you consider there are many rude fishermen around who will, for example, fish your dock even when you're standing on it, that's really saying something.
To boil down my friends' objections to Hec, they say he's a great man to have on your side but a terrible enemy when he's not. They say the entire council should be turfed, and probably will be.

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