Issues & Challenges – Lake Ontario Waterfront

Erosion Control and Flood Risk

Signs of erosion on the Scarborough Bluffs

The shoreline is subject to naturally occurring processes associated with flooding, erosion, and dynamic beach movement. TRCA’s Lake Ontario Waterfront Development Program (1980) classifies the shoreline into four sectors; the Etobicoke Sector, the City of Toronto Sector, the Scarborough Sector and the Pickering/Ajax Sector.

The Etobicoke Sector is characterized by a relatively uniform shore cliff, with variations from sandy sloping beaches to 6 metre bluffs. The City of Toronto shoreline is largely altered due to development however some sandy beaches, such as Cherry Beach, remain. The Scarborough Sector is dominated by the Scarborough Bluffs which can reach heights up to 91.4 metres. The Pickering/Ajax sector consists of smaller bluffs interspersed amongst sandy beach areas.

Where there is a lack of vegetation stabilizing the shoreline, land and infrastructure are at risk from erosion caused by wave activity. In each of the sectors, major and minor shoreline work is required to reduce the risks associated with flooding and erosion. This work includes the installation of wave breaks, shoreline armourstone, sand management and other measures that will serve to protect public safety and stabilize the shoreline.

Learn more about TRCA’s current Erosion Control and Flood Risk projects.

Water Quality in the Toronto Harbour


The decline of water quality in the Toronto Harbour has occurred gradually over 200 years of intensive development.

Activities such as shoreline/stream channel alteration and land clearing have resulted in increased sewage and runoff entering local rivers and subsequently the lake.

In 1987, Toronto and Region was designated as one of 42 locations around the Great Lakes where local environmental degradation may be adversely affecting the broader Great Lakes system. These locations are referred to as Areas of Concern (AOC) and each is required to implement a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) that improves the safety, viability and enjoyment of the water in their area.

Considerable progress has been made since the RAP was instituted. This includes banning of the use of certain chemicals (e.g. lead in gasoline and PCBs), tighter restrictions on municipal and industrial sewage treatment plant discharges, efforts to reduce combined sewer overflows and sewage plant by-passes, better management and treatment of stormwater and re-naturalization of river valleys and corridors. These management activities have resulted in water quality improvements such as:

  • Decreased levels of bacteria and total phosphorus;
  • Levels of persistent toxic chemicals such as PCBs and mercury have declined in fish from Lake Ontario and the Area of Concern (AOC);
  • Eight of Toronto’s 11 beaches are designated as Blue Flag beaches, an international eco-label given to communities committed to maintaining high standards of water quality; and
  • The return of native fish species such as walleye and brook silverside to the waterfront.

Despite these improvements within the Toronto and Region AOC, more work is required. Protecting the environment in an ever growing urban centre like Toronto is an on-going process and requires eternal vigilance by all levels of government, industry and the public.

Urban Recreational Fisheries Plan


The Ministry of Natural Resources and four Conservation Authorities – Toronto and Region, Credit Valley, Central Lake Ontario, and Ganaraska Region – are leading the planning process to create an Urban Recreational Fisheries Plan for Greater Toronto and Area.

The plan will look at improving access to shoreline fishing, taking a systematic approach to improving fish habitat, and promoting the diverse fishing opportunities available along the waterfront.

The first series of public meetings took place in October and November 2013, where a draft plan was presented and attendees had a chance to provide feedback into the final plan.

To stay up to date on the Urban Recreational Fisheries Plan, please visit Aquatic Habitat Toronto.

Aquatic Habitat Toronto (AHT) represents a consensus-based partnership between agencies with a vested interest in the improvement of aquatic habitat on the Greater Toronto and Area waterfront. Partners include Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ministry of Natural Resources, Toronto and Region Conservation, Waterfront Toronto, with key participants from Environment Canada in consultation with City of Toronto. Aquatic Habitat Toronto is responsible for the implementation of the Toronto Waterfront Aquatic Habitat Restoration Strategy (TWAHRS).