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Newmarket toughens stance on use of stormwater ponds for skating

Safer options coming in future, at outdoor rink at Ray Twinney complex and trail at Mulock Park, mayor says
June 16, 2021

The Town of Newmarket is reminding residents to keep off its stormwater management ponds and plans to erect more signage.

Council committee of the whole passed a resolution June 14 reinforcing that position. Legislative coordinator Jaclyn Grossi reported people using the ponds for recreational purposes in the winter have been an issue in the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 65 ponds in the municipality are used to manage stormwater runoff, allowing substances like dirt to go to the bottom and improve the quality of water released to creeks and streams. But some people have taken to using those ponds when frozen, despite warnings from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) about the risks.

“Water levels change rapidly due to the constant water flow,” Grossi reported. “In the winter months, the pond water may also contain road salt and other contaminants, which contribute to poor ice quality. These factors combine to create dangerous and unpredictable conditions.”

Grossi reported customer service received 12 messages regarding the ponds between Jan. 1 and June 7. Only four were to advise people using them for winter recreation, with none regarding spring recreation.

With the resolution, staff will develop a strategy to ensure the ponds are maintained, and erect signage at all of them.

Councillor Christina Bisanz said there is merit to considering alternatives for people to use.

“Many of the ponds were being used for ice rinks and I think, thank goodness in some respects, because it did give people an outlet and some physical activity,” Bisanz said, adding those chances were scarce due to pandemic restrictions.

Mayor John Taylor said the municipality could consider providing offline ponds with more stability, separate from stormwater management ponds. But he added more skating options will be offered in the future, such as the outdoor rink at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex and a skating trail at Mulock Park.

“I’m fine with where we’re at,” Taylor said, adding the town could consider offline ponds in the future. 

The report also said the municipality could examine turning the ponds into dry ponds that would only fill with heavy rainfall or snowmelt. The LSCRA encourages it for contaminant reduction in runoff, and it could reduce public use risk, though it would cost $100,000 per pond. Grossi reported external funding could come to help offset costs.