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Cleaning Up the Great Lakes

Additional Information

Great Lakes Sustainability Fund Projects

Lakewide Management Plan Reports

Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem

Success Stories

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The Government of Canada is working in partnership with communities and other levels of government to protect and restore water quality in the Great Lakes. Since 1989 the Government of Canada has invested $395 million in targeted actions to restore and protect great lakes water quality and ecosystem health. This includes support to nearly 900 partnered projects to clean up contaminated sediment, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and improve municipal wastewater treatment systems. Working with our partners, we have successfully restored environmental conditions in three Great Lakes areas that had been severely degraded: Collingwood Harbour, Severn Sound, and Wheatley Harbour. We have also made significant progress in other great lakes areas of concern.

Investing in the Great Lakes

The Government of Canada is currently investing $48 million annually in federal funding for Great Lakes initiatives: $22 million from Environment Canada programs and initiatives, and another $26 million for various activities by other federal departments.

Environment Canada’s $22 million in funding on average per year is spent in the following areas:

  • $8 million to rehabilitate fish and wildlife habitat, to assess and remediate contaminated sediment, and to improve the quality of municipal wastewater effluent in Great Lakes Areas of Concern. This includes activities undertaken with provincial, regional and local partners through Great Lakes Sustainability Fund projects.
  • $6 million per year to remediate contaminated sediment in Great Lakes Areas of Concern - environmental “hot spots” that are severely degraded. This funding comes from Canada’s Action Plan for Clean Water.
  • $8 million per year is used for scientific research, monitoring, lending expertise to partnered projects, consultation and community engagement, and participation in restoration and clean-up initiatives.

Great Lakes Areas of Concern and Lakewide Management St. Marys River Area of Concern Jackfish Bay Area of Concern Toronto and Region Area of Concern Wheatley Harbour Delisted Area of Concern Niagara River Area of Concern Nipigon Bay Area of Concern St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) Area of Concern Bay of Quinte Area of Concern Port Hope Area of Concern Collingwood Harbour Delisted Area of Concern Detroit River Area of Concern St. Clair River Area of Concern Thunder Bay Area of Concern Spanish Harbour Area in Recovery Severn Sound Delisted Area of Concern Peninsula Harbour Area of Concern Hamilton Harbour Area of Concern Lake Huron Binational Partnership Lake St. Clair Canadian Watershed Management Plan Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP)

Click on the map for the status of the Canadian areas of concern and updates on lakewide management.

Legend

Circle = Canadian Area of Concern
Diamond = Shared Canada-US Area of Concern
Star = Delisted Area of Concern
Triangle = Area in Recovery
Diamond = Lakewide Management
Dotted Line = Canada-United States Border

Thunder Bay Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality along the Thunder Bay waterfront has been severely degraded by industrial and urban development and contaminants in waste water discharges.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $2,854,306 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Thunder Bay Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Fish and wildlife habitats have improved
  • Fish populations have improved

Outlook: Managing contaminated sediment is still a priority. Through ongoing hard work and collaboration with many partners, environmental quality could be restored by 2015-2020.

Nipigon Bay Area of Concern

The Challenge: Fish habitat in Nipigon Bay has been severely impacted by discharges from the local pulp and paper industry and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $241,108 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Nipigon Bay Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Fish habitat and populations have improved

Outlook: All recommended actions to restore environmental quality, including the improvement of the treatment of wastewater at a sewage treatment plant, are expected to be completed by 2011.

Jackfish Bay Area of Concern

The Challenge: Discharges of wastewater from the local pulp mill have severely degraded water quality in Jackfish Bay.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $2000 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, to help clean up the Jackfish Bay Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • The pulp mill has changed the way it uses toxic chemicals and disposes of waste and pollutants

Outlook: Thanks to strong collaboration with many partners, all recommended actions to restore environmental quality in this area have been taken. The recovery of the environment is being monitored. Jackfish Bay may be designated as an Area in Recovery in 2010.

Peninsula Harbour Area of Concern

The Challenge: Discharges of wastewater from a pulp mill and a chlor-alkali plant have severely degraded water quality in Peninsula Harbour.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $535,857 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Peninsula Harbour Area of Concern.

Results to date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Fish habitat and populations have improved
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants

Outlook: Managing contaminated sediment is still a priority. Actions to remediate the contaminated sediment in this area are expected to be implemented in 2011.

St. Marys River Area of Concern

The Challenge: Discharges of wastewater by the local pulp and steel industries and wastewater treatment plants are the main causes for water quality problems in the river.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $500,439 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, to help clean up the St. Marys River Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Fish and wildlife habitats have increased
  • Walleye populations have increased
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants

Outlook: Managing contaminated sediment is still a priority. Through ongoing hard work and collaboration, environmental quality could be restored by 2015-2020.

Spanish Harbour Area in Recovery

The Challenge: Water quality problems in the harbour were linked to the local pulp and paper mill industry and municipal wastewater discharges from past and ongoing mining sources in the Spanish River watershed.

Investment: In 1997, Spanish Harbour went from being designated as an Area of Concern to an Area in Recovery. From 2000 to 2009, $48,000 was invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, in order to continue monitoring efforts in Spanish Harbour.

Results to Date:

  • Fish populations have increased
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants

Outlook: Original environmental problems have been addressed and natural recovery of the environment is expected to address the remaining issues. Environmental monitoring continues.

St. Clair River Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in the St. Clair River was severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being discharged into the water as a result of urban development and industrial activity.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $3,821,153 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the St. Clair River Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • A portion of the contaminated sediment has been removed
  • Fish and wildlife habitats have improved
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants

Outlook: Managing contaminated sediment is still a priority. Through ongoing hard work and collaboration, environmental quality could be restored by 2015-2020.

Detroit River Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in the Detroit River has been severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being discharged into the water as a result of urban development, industrial activity and agricultural practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $4,497,479 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Detroit River Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved agricultural practices
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Fish and wildlife habitats have improved
  • Fish populations have improved

Outlook: With continued collaboration with many partners, all recommended actions to restore environmental quality could be completed by 2015-2020.

Wheatley Harbour Delisted Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in Wheatley Harbour was severely degraded by pollutants and contaminated wastes being dumped into the harbour as a result of local industrial activity and agricultural practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $818,720 was invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up and delist the Wheatley Harbour Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish populations
  • Improved agricultural practices
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants

Outlook: All recommended actions to restore environmental quality have been taken and through environmental monitoring, it has been determined that all beneficial uses have been restored. In April 2010, Wheatley Harbour was officially delisted as an Area of Concern.

Hamilton Harbour Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in Hamilton Harbour has been severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being dumped into the water as a result of intense industrial and urban development around its shore.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $6,866,483 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Hamilton Harbour Area of Concern. In 2007, the Government of Canada also committed $30 million for the remediation of the Randle Reef contaminated sediment site in Hamilton Harbour.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved water quality
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants

Outlook: Funds have been committed by Canada and Ontario to upgrade the wastewater treatment plants. Managing the contaminated sediment at Randle Reef is currently the major challenge in the harbour. All federal remedial actions are expected to be complete by 2015-2021.

Toronto and Region Area of Concern

The Challenge: Lake Ontario water quality in the Toronto and Region Area of Concern was severely degraded as a result of urban development, industrial activities and agricultural practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $5,800,942 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Toronto and Region Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Increased awareness by the rural community of best agricultural management practices
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish and wildlife population

Outlook: Restoring environmental conditions in a growing urban area as large as this one is challenging. Significant achievements are expected over the next decade which could enable Toronto and Region to be removed from the list of AOCs by 2020.

Port Hope Area of Concern

The Challenge: Environmental concerns in the Port Hope Area of Concern focus on the radioactive sediments in the harbour as a result of past uranium processing plants.

Outlook: Initiatives are being undertaken to clean up Port Hope harbour. Removal of the contaminated sediment in the harbour is scheduled to begin in 2012.

Niagara River Area of Concern

The Challenge: The environmental problems in the Canadian Niagara River AOC were caused mostly by pollution entering the water as a result of agricultural and wastewater treatment practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $3,902,203 was invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund to help clean up the Niagara River Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish and wildlife population
  • Overall decrease of toxic chemicals discharged in the river due to industries changing how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Increased awareness by the rural community of best agricultural management practices

Outlook: Addressing sources of phosphorus and securing funding needed for major upgrades to wastewater treatment operations are main priorities for this area. All federal remedial actions are expected to be complete by 2015-2020.

Bay of Quinte Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in the Bay of Quinte had been severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being dumped into the water as a result of industrial and urban development and agricultural practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $2,167,087 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, to help clean up the Bay of Quinte Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved agricultural practices
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish and wildlife populations

Outlook: Further work is required to implement a nutrient management strategy to achieve water quality targets and ensure future protection of the Bay. All actions to restore environmental conditions are expected to be completed by 2013.

St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in the St. Lawrence River had been severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being dumped into the water as a result of industrial and urban development and agricultural practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2009, $3,406,716 has been invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, to help clean up the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved agricultural practices
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Industries have changed how they use toxic chemicals and dispose of waste and pollutants
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish and wildlife populations
  • A contaminated sediment management strategy and associated administrative controls have been put in place

Outlook: Thanks to strong collaboration with many partners, all major remedial restoration actions have been implemented and substantial progress toward restoring environmental conditions in the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC has been made. A decision is expected to be made on removing the St. Lawrence River from the list of AOCs by 2011.

Collingwood Harbour Delisted Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in Collingwood Harbour was severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being dumped into the water by a wastewater treatment plant and industrial operations.

Results to Date: Environment Canada collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Removed contaminated sediments
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish and wildlife populations

Outlook: In 1994, the governments of Canada and Ontario agreed that the environmental concerns had been restored, and Collingwood Harbour was removed from the list of Areas of Concern. It was the first Great Lakes Area of Concern to be delisted.

Severn Sound Delisted Area of Concern

The Challenge: Water quality in Severn Sound was severely degraded by pollution and contaminated waste being dumped into the water as a result of shoreline development and agricultural practices.

Investment: From 2000 to 2006, $783,710 was invested through the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, to help clean up the Severn Area of Concern.

Results to Date: Environment Canada collaborated with partners to achieve the following results:

  • Improved agricultural practices
  • Improved wastewater treatment
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitats
  • Improved fish and wildlife populations

Outlook: In June 2002, it was determined that the beneficial uses of Severn Sound had been restored and that it should no longer be considered a Great Lakes hot spot. In January 2003, Severn Sound was officially delisted as an Area of Concern.

Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP)

The Challenge: Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. The lake and its drainage basin span more than 209,000 square kilometres. It is the most northerly of the North American Great Lakes and is home to many plant and animal species. Currently, the ecosystem is facing challenges such as aquatic invasive species, chemical pollution and threats to native fish and wildlife populations and their habitats.

Results to date: Through the Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan, Environment Canada has collaborated with Canadian and U.S. partners to:

  • Create an Aquatic Invasive Species Complete Prevention Plan;
  • Support the creation of Parks Canada�s Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which includes more than 10,000 square kilometres of Lake Superior lakebed, islands, shoals and mainland, making it the largest freshwater marine protected area in the world;
  • Implement a Zero Discharge Demonstration Program for the basin, which aims to achieve zero release of nine designated persistent bioaccumulative toxic substances in the Lake Superior basin by 2020. Through this Program, levels of contaminants have been significantly reduced over the last two decades;
  • Encourage public outreach activities on Lake Superior Day (the third Sunday of July each year) to raise awareness about the importance of the lake and the restoration and protection of its ecosystem.

Outlook: Through the Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan, Canada and the United States are piloting a new approach towards preventing aquatic invasive species from being introduced into the Great Lakes. The extent and effectiveness of biodiversity conservation actions in Lake Superior will also be assessed in order form the basis of a Lake Superior Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. Progress towards the Zero Discharge Demonstration Program�s 2010 goals will be measured, and the success of implementation efforts will be assessed. Actions to address habitat conservation, aquatic invasive species, pollution reduction and community stewardship will be encouraged.

Lake Huron Binational Partnership

The Challenge: Lake Huron and its drainage basin encompass more than 190,000 square kilometres. The Lake Huron ecosystem is defined by an expansive watershed and abundance of shoreline habitat. Lake Huron has more than 30,000 islands and, as a result, has the longest shoreline of any lake in the world. Challenges in the Lake Huron ecosystem include beach contamination along the coast, invasive species, and recent changes in the aquatic ecosystem.

Results to Date: Through the Lake Huron Binational Partnership, Environment Canada has collaborated with Canadian and U.S. partners to:

  • Continue to invest in the rehabilitation of lake trout populations and monitor for signs of recovery;
  • Draft a Lake Huron Biodiversity Conservation Strategy to restore, maintain and protect the waters of Lake Huron, and provide long term conservation strategies for biodiversity in the watershed.

Outlook: Additional efforts are needed to address beach contamination and algal fouling along the southeast shore, improve understanding of recent aquatic ecosystem changes, and finalize the Lake Huron Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, which will be completed in 2010. Local community action will be promoted, and public outreach and education will be priorities.

Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP)

The Challenge: Lake Erie and its drainage basin include about 89,000 square kilometres. The lake�s watershed is home to more than 11 million people. The lake supports one of the largest freshwater fisheries in the world, and its beaches and wetland complexes provide many opportunities for recreation and tourism. Currently, the major challenges in the Lake are algal blooms due to excessive phosphorus discharges, lost and degraded habitat, and the introduction of non-native invasive species.

Results to Date: Through the Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan, Environment Canada has collaborated with Canadian and U.S. partners to:

  • Complete an assessment of the status of nutrients in Lake Erie;
  • Create a Lake Erie Binational Nutrient Strategy, which includes nutrient targets for the lake;
  • Create a Lake Erie Binational Habitat Map to provide an inventory of the status, quantity and quality of fish and wildlife habitats in the basin;
  • Hold biennial Lake Erie Millennium Conferences in 2006, 2008 and 2010 to promote binational information sharing, identify information gaps and coordinate the data collection and sharing.

Outlook: New binational science-based phosphorus targets are needed to address the increasing challenge of widespread toxic and nuisance algae growth in Lake Erie. The work being done in the Lake Erie basin to understand the algae growth problem and to establish phosphorus concentration and loadings targets for open waters and nearshore areas will be a model for other lakes. Meeting total phosphorus targets is a difficult task and will continue to be a priority for the many levels of government involved in restoring and protecting Lake Erie. Rehabilitating and protecting species and habitats is another long-term concern. The next steps for are to develop a Binational Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and implement a domestic action plan to address excessive nutrients, such as phosphorus.

Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP)

The Challenge: Lake Ontario has a surface area of 18,960 square kilometres, and a drainage basin area measuring 134,100 square kilometres. Significant challenges face the Lake Ontario ecosystem. These include new and emerging chemicals, the impact of invasive species, water level regulation and fish consumption advisories due of legacy pollutants such as mercury, PCBs and dioxins.

Results to Date: Through the Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan, Environment Canada has collaborated with Canadian and U.S. partners to:

  • Significantly reduce the levels of contaminants in the Lake Ontario ecosystem over the last 20 years;
  • Support the recovery of animal populations such as lake trout, bald eagle, mink and otter;
  • Restore the populations and habitats of key fish species such as Atlantic salmon, American eel and lake sturgeon;
  • Reduce loadings of critical pollutants such as PCBs through ongoing source track-down efforts in both Canada and the United States;
  • Adopt a new suite of wetland indicators that can be used to measure and track the health of Lake Ontario�s coastal wetlands;
  • Surpass the reduction targets for nearly all 18 priority toxic chemicals addressed by the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan.

Outlook: The Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan is leading the way in relation to the development and implementation of lake-based biodiversity conservation strategies. Lakewide management plan partners are considering ways to address recent algal blooms in the nearshore through coordinated binational collaboration. Public awareness, habitat conservation and monitoring efforts will continue to support bald eagle restoration efforts in Canada and the United States.

Lake St. Clair Canadian Watershed Management Plan

The Challenge: Lake St. Clair, with a drainage basin of 14,615 square kilometres, is part of the connecting waterway between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. The Lake St. Clair drainage basin contains one of the most productive agricultural areas of Canada. Challenges in the Lake St. Clair watershed include chemical contaminants, excess nutrients, and non-native species.

Results to Date: Environment Canada has collaborated with Canadian partners to:

  • Restore and protect Lake St. Clair and its watershed by contributing to science and monitoring, conservation, species at risk and environmental stewardship projects;
  • Develop a Lake St. Clair Canadian Management Plan that supports the binational Canada-U.S. vision and goal for the entire Lake St. Clair basin;
  • Host Biennial Binational Lake St. Clair Conferences in 2006 and 2010 to provide a forum to exchange information on Lake St. Clair�s changing environment and the actions and tools needed to manage these changes.

Outlook: Progress towards achieving Lake St. Clair management recommendations will continue. In 2012, the next Binational Lake St. Clair conference will be held in the United States.

Great Lakes Science

Environment Canada provides significant scientific expertise to Great Lakes efforts, leading or jointly participating in key research that helps to understand and better manage Great Lakes issues. Through Lakewide Management Plans, Canada and the US establish cooperative science priorities and coordinate research and monitoring. Some recently completed or ongoing science-oriented projects include:

  • studies of how aquatic invasive species (such as zebra and quagga mussels) affect increased algae and beach fouling in the Great Lakes.
  • Identification of pollution sources that are contributing to the contamination of Great Lakes beaches and drinking water intakes.
  • fish and health assessments in several areas to determine the impact that activities and pollutants are having on fish health.

See the detailed list of science-oriented projects in the Great Lakes Basin.

A Collaborative Approach

The Great Lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on earth, with about 18 per cent of the world's fresh surface water, an ecosystem that supports over 3,500 species of plants and animals, and fishing and shipping industry that injects more than $7-billion annually into Canada's economy.

The Great Lakes basin spans a huge geographic area of both Canada and the United States, including parts of Ontario as well as eight U.S. states. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is an international agreement between Canada and the United States to help coordinate efforts to restore and maintain the Great Lakes. The agreement sets out the overall commitments of both countries to restore and maintain water quality and aquatic ecosystem health in the Great Lakes.

Canada meets its international commitments by working collaboratively with the Ontario government under the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA). This agreement sets out clear roles and responsibilities between eight federal and three provincial ministries. Environment Canada works with the United States, federal, provincial, state, and community partners as well as with the public to improve Great Lakes water quality. This includes implementing lakewide management plans that have been developed for each of the Great Lakes. Among many other initiatives, these partners work to deliver remedial action plans that guide restoration and protection efforts in key Areas of Concern - 'hot spots' that have been designated as the most severely degraded areas within the Great Lakes.