Canada's RAP Progress Report 2003
- The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Remedial Action Plans (RAPs)
- Severn Sound
- Collingwood Harbour
- Spanish Harbour
- Thunder Bay
- Nipigon Bay
- Jackfish Bay
- Peninsula Harbour
- St. Marys River
- St. Clair River
- Detroit River
- Wheatley Harbour
- Niagara River
- Hamilton Harbour
- Toronto and Region
- Port Hope Harbour
- Bay of Quinte
- St. Lawrence River (Cornwall)
- List of Acronyms
- Figure 1 - Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin
- Table 1 - Status of Beneficial Use Impairments in Canadian Areas of Concern. January, 2003
St. Marys River
The 112 kilometres long St. Marys River drains Lake Superior and flows into the North Channel of Lake Huron. This binational AOC extends from the head of the river at Whitefish Bay downstream to Quebec Bay and Hay Point in Ontario and Detour Passage in Michigan. The largest communities in the AOC are Sault Ste.Marie, Ontario and Sault Ste.Marie, Michigan. Both cities serve as industrial and commercial centres for a large portion of northern Michigan and the Algoma District of Ontario. The First Nation communities in Canada are Batchewana and Garden River. In the United-States, the tribal communities are the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste.Marie Tribe.
The St. Marys River watershed, wetlands, and riparian areas provide habitat for a number of fish and wildlife species including 186 resident and migrant bird species. The river has some of the highest biodiversity in the Great Lakes Basin. The watershed supports a diverse fish community. Whitefish Bay and the river also support subsistence fisheries and a popular sport fishery. Only limited commercial fishing occurs in Whitefish Bay.
The St. Marys River is a key element in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway. Extensive alterations to the river have been undertaken to facilitate ship navigation between Lakes Huron and Superior, enhance rail and vehicular traffic, and provide hydroelectric power. Water level fluctuations for the upper Great Lakes are moderated by the regulation of the flow of the St. Marys River.
While much of the river is unaffected by human influence, other portions are heavily impaired due to point source discharges and contaminated sediments. The St. Marys River was identified as an AOC because of impairment of nine of the 14 beneficial uses as defined by the GLWQA (see Table 1). Although ambient water quality is not a use impairment under the GLWQA, the St. Marys River Binational Public Advisory Council established a goal that the natural high water quality that enters the river from Lake Superior should be the minimum water quality standard to be achieved in the AOC.
Restrictions on fish consumption are due to mercury (Ontario and Michigan) and PCBs (Michigan). Organisms living in the river bottom sediments on the Canadian side are exposed to PAH and PCB contamination. White suckers have exhibited liver tumors - another sign of exposure to contaminated sediments. Total body contact activities on the river are periodically impaired due to levels of E. coli bacteria in excess of provincial and state guidelines.
Fish populations have been heavily impacted by the predation from sea lamprey. Significant loss of fish and wildlife habitat has occurred as a result of shoreline alteration, industrialization, urbanization, and shipping activities, particularly in the St. Marys rapids.
Since 1990, the GLSF has spent over $800K for ten projects towards restoring the ecosystem, with partner contributions exceeding $1M. A notable success was the sanitary sewer investigative study to reduce City of Sault Ste. Marie untreated sewer overflows to the St. Marys River. As a result, work is now underway to eliminate or treat sanitary to storm sewer overflows through upgrading pumping stations and containment tanks, and re-routing sewers. The project is funded in partnership with the city by the Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Program (total $60M) and includes upgrading the East End Water Pollution Control Plant to secondary treatment.
The GLSF has also contributed to wetland protection strategies, fostering the recovery of walleye populations and supporting the design of habitat features in the city’s waterfront development. In-kind contributions were valued as the largest single funding category for this AOC.
In 1995, the St. Marys Paper Ltd. mechanical pulp mill installed an activated sludge treatment facility at a cost of $14M which resulted in a reduction of the biological oxygen demand and suspended solids in its discharge water. The mill effluent now meets all provincial and federal effluent regulations.
The bottom sediments of the river including the Algoma Steel Inc. boat slip are extensively contaminated with PAHs up to four km downstream from the facility. The century-old Algoma slag site continues to be a chronic contaminant source to the river. While historic leachate is now buried in downstream sediments, the present inputs need to be controlled. A coal tar barrier was installed in 1990 to protect the river from one area formerly owned jointly by Algoma Steel and Domtar.
A survey of bottom sediments and benthic invertebrates reveals continued and extensive contamination of the sediments and impairments of benthic communities adjacent to the Algoma slag dump, in the boat slip, in the Lake George Channel, Little Lake George and the Northern portion of Lake George. Other Canadian sites identified with contaminated sediments are the Bellevue Marine Park area and the river sediments immediately upriver as far as the Purvis Marine Ltd. dock.
Although there are no guidelines for the consumption of wildlife, Ontario MNR has advised against the consumption of organ meats from moose, black bear and deer throughout Ontario due to elevated levels of cadmium. Waterfowl samples from the St. Marys River contain mercury and PCBs, however no assessment criteria are in place at this time. This will be addressed through a Stage 2 report recommendation to produce a set of precise, objectively defined delisting criteria that are numerically quantified wherever possible. These criteria will provide the necessary decision framework that will govern the delisting of each impaired beneficial use and, ultimately, the delisting of the AOC itself.
Sea lamprey originating in the St. Marys River are the major contributor to the infestation in Lake Huron and the high annual mortality of Lake Trout. Sea lamprey control efforts through the Great Lake Fishery Commission will help restore impaired fisheries in the St. Marys River as well as northern Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. A long term, continuing effort is needed since the opportunistic lamprey can take quick advantage of any lapse in larvae and adult control measures.
The original role of the Binational Public Advisory Council as reviewer of RAP documents and advisor of the program has shifted to a broader involvement. BPAC members sit now on the Algoma Steel Environmental Management Agreement advisory committee (see sidebar), participate in the St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group and support local watershed groups.
The Stage 2 RAP document contains an extensive compilation of recommended actions.
In addition to the large number of actions already completed or underway, the report also contains over 60 new recommended actions, some of which contain numerous sub-components. Twenty-six of these actions focus on the remediation of point and non-point sources (e.g., contaminated sediment) and on the remediation of fish and wildlife habitat. In addition, there are 31 monitoring actions designed to provide baseline information, measure compliance, and assess the effectiveness of remedial actions. Finally, there are five actions relating to general reporting and education. It should be noted that several of the recommended actions have been designed to address a number of human health concerns within the AOC.
The following actions are in priority areas and are required to address the outstanding Canadian issues.
A comprehensive multi-agency contaminated sediment management plan for the AOC is needed to finalize sediment assessment and to implement possible remedial actions.
Although sediment contaminant levels have declined, the sediments in three areas of the river exceed the provincial sediment quality objectives lowest effect level and they remain acutely toxic to indicator test organisms in the Algoma boat slip. There are also data gaps for the Bellevue Park site.
A closure plan has been prepared by Algoma Steel for its slag storage landfill. An MOE control order is required to initiate the necessary remediation.
FISH CONSUMPTION RESTRICTIONS
The provincial government will continue to report sport fish monitoring program results to the public in the AOC. Lake Superior State University plans to investigate areas of the river for possible sources of mercury in an attempt to track down the cause of sportfish advisories.
There is a need to identify causal factors for the incidence of fish tumours including likely sediment contaminant sources.
LOSS OF FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT
Under review is a detailed watershed management plan that has been prepared for the Bennett and West Davignon Creeks, tributaries of the St. Marys River. The plan contains 23 recommended actions ranging from wetland development for both fish and wildlife to enhancing fish migratory passages to addressing contamination issues. Plans are recommended for three other watersheds in the AOC.
The GLSF is funding a project by Ducks Unlimited (DU) to seek long-term protection for wetlands along the St. Marys River. The two year partnership will enable DU to market funding instruments (e.g. EcoGifts, Land Tax Incentive Programs), negotiate land use agreements and bring influence to municipal official plan development.
The St. Marys River Fisheries Assessment Plan identifies the need to establish a baseline for evaluating current and future habitat conditions through documenting the current and historical habitats in the river.
It is expected that the upgrades by the city to its sewage treatment plant will reduce the incidence of beach closures in the river, however storm sewer discharges remain a bacterial source. Planning studies related to the control of storm sewer discharges may be initiated. Routine monitoring is carried out by the Algoma Health Unit and beach water quality monitoring is expected to continue. The Garden River First Nation’s capacity to conduct monitoring is based on funding availability.
The Cannelton Tannery operated in Michigan from 1900- 1958 and contributed considerable metal contamination to the sediments. The site has been remediated under the USEPA Superfund program. The RAP Stage 2 report recommends that monitoring of surface and groundwater, wetlands soils and biota be undertaken at the Cannelton site to ensure protection of the food chain. A complete site review should be conducted every five years.
Delisting of the St. Marys AOC will require the completion of a number of costly remedial measures, including:
Less costly commitments for further wetland restoration and protection will likely be delivered by the end of 2007.
- Date Modified: