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. Clair River
The St. Clair River flows 64 kilometres in a southerly direction from Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair. The binational AOC includes the main river, its delta channels, and both coastal watersheds covering over 335 000 hectares.
The St. Clair River is a link in the Great Lakes Seaway system and serves as a shipping channel for local industries. The river is also a source of cooling and process water for industry and thermal generating stations. It serves as a source of drinking water for a population of more than 170 000. While Sarnia and Port Huron are the main population centres, a large portion of the population of the AOC is located in rural areas. The Chippewas of Sarnia Band Reserve (Aamjiwnaang) and the Walpole Island First Nation are located in the AOC. In Ontario, 78 percent of the land area is dedicated to agricultural activities. The wetlands and associated open waters of the lower St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair provide habitat for many species and are considered some of the most important wetland areas in the Great Lakes basin. Sport fishing is popular on the St. Clair River, and hunting and trapping are significant uses, particularly for the First Nations people living on the River. The River also supports a number of parks and areas affording recreational opportunities including swimming, boating and naturalist activities.
The primary sources of contaminants to the river have come from the discharges of a complex of 27 industrial facilities in Ontario focused in Sarnia and six in the US together with ten municipal point sources and associated lagoons. Urban storm water and rural runoff are also contributors. There are zones of contaminated bottom sediments in the river downstream from the industrial area.
The binational RAP process identified nine beneficial use impairments (BUIs) in 1991. Today six remain impaired with the other three designated as not impaired. The remaining impairments are: fish consumption advisories in effect in Ontario and Michigan; the quality of benthic communities as a result of contaminated sediments; restrictions on dredging activities due to contamination by toxic chemicals; public beach closures due to bacterial contamination and the overall aesthetic value of the river needs improvement; and degraded fish and wildlife habitat. Restrictions on drinking water and added costs to agriculture and industry are no longer impairments as a result of a significant decline in the volume and frequency of industrial spills to the river. From 1994-2000, there have been no instances where a downstream water treatment/ filtration plant was ordered to be shutdown as a result of a spill. Recent studies of Forster's Terns and snapping turtles by the Canadian Wildlife Service have confirmed that there are no bird or animal deformities and it is expected that this BUI will be declared not impaired for the St. Clair River in the near future.
Work on the St. Clair River RAP began in 1988. Thirty-eight remedial actions were identified by the RAP in 1995 that require specific actions either in Canada or the US. Thirty-seven of these have specific activities underway or completed. Remedial actions will continue to be implemented and contaminant levels in the environment continue on a downward trend.
A Letter of Commitment was signed by Governments of Canada, US, Ontario and Michigan in 1998 that outlines responsibilities for implementation and restoration of the St. Clair River, Detroit River and St. Marys River Binational AOCs (see sidebar).
The St. Clair River Binational Public Advisory Council (BPAC) with cross border and broad community representation, has been encouraging the co-operative effort of government, industry, municipalities and all interested community groups in addressing environmental issues in the river. BPAC members have collectively supported conclusions reached in the documents. With support from Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Environment, the BPAC public outreach program has made the RAP available in CD-ROM format and on the Internet at www.friendsofthestclair.ca. The nonprofit organization, Friends of the St. Clair River, formed in Michigan (1994) and Ontario (1997), actively seeks and obtains funds to assist with implementation activities. Projects undertaken with landowners include habitat improvements, sport fish monitoring, creating wetland based septic systems and various watershed erosion control measures. Friends have also produced fact sheets on achievements and remaining work as part of their "Countdown to Delisting" project.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND SUCCESSES
Since 1990, the GLSF has contributed $ 2.5M to support over 70 partnerships implementing 31 projects with the aim of restoring impaired beneficial uses in the St. Clair River AOC. This investment in partnerships has realized an additional $4.8M in direct partner funding, a $3.4M in-kind contribution and personnel participation valued at over $1M. The largest project categories are habitat restoration and non-point source control. Support to community groups has been provided by Environment Canada through its EcoAction program and by the Ontario provincial government through the Trillium Foundation.
Virtually all of the major industrial and municipal facilities in both Michigan and Ontario have shown significant progress in implementing remedial actions related to the control and reduction of chemical and bacterial contaminants from point sources. Contaminant levels are reduced in water, sediments, air and biota. Notable environmental successes have included:
MUNICIPAL/COUNTY LEVEL ACTIONS:
The City of Sarnia has recently completed a $30M upgrade of its sewage treatment plant. The facility now uses secondary treatment with ultraviolet disinfection and a state of the art sludge management system. The City of Port Huron, MI has embarked on a US$180 million, 15 year sewage separation program begun in 1995. With regard to urban runoff, actions have been undertaken for each non-point source recommendation. Some of the actions implemented are at the level of policy definition, such as those included in the Lambton County Official Plan relating to urban runoff for new developments and the Sombra Township Official Plan requiring erosion control measures at new developments. County level organizations with the support of Environment Canada and USEPA funding, have leveraged over $1M since 2000 to engage landowners in habitat and rural non-point source improvement projects.
REDUCTION OF SPILLS TO THE ST. CLAIR RIVER:
There has been a significant reduction in the frequency and size of industrial chemical spills since the 1980s and the impairment for restriction of drinking water has been restored. Current data show less than ten spills per year occur from Ontario chemical and petroleum facilities and large spills are now infrequent.
ACTIONS BY THE PETROCHEMICAL SECTOR:
- Dow Chemical Canada, Inc. removed approximately 175 cubic metres of highly contaminated sediments at the Cole drain discharge in 1996 and capped its Scott Road landfill in 2000, thus eliminating the area as a source of contaminants to the river;
- In a pilot project 220 cubic metres of contaminated sediments was removed in 2002 from the St. Clair River in an area adjacent to the Dow manufacturing site in Sarnia (zone I). This is the first of a two phase approach to remediate historically contaminated sediments in the upper river adjacent to the Dow property. Pending evaluation of the hydraulic dredge, dewatering and water treatment technologies employed in the pilot phase, full scale cleanup of approximately 22000 cubic metres in the area is expected to commence in the summer of 2003.
- Significant reductions from 1994-1999 of air emissions for nine of the ten most prevalent chemicals as self-reported by 23 facilities in the National Pollutants Release Inventory;
Numerous habitat restoration projects and enhancement programs are ongoing in both Ontario and Michigan and the effort continues to grow. In Canada:
- over $2M has been spent through partnerships on habitat restoration and streambank erosion programs;
- 70 percent of the target area for riparian and upland habitat has been enhanced and 23 km of riparian habitat restored;
- 30 percent of the target area of the Darcy McKeough Floodway were enhanced;
- a total of 500 hectares of habitat have been enhanced in the St. Clair region since 1992.
- a 300 hectare woodlot (Bickford Oaks Woods) was acquired in 2002 protecting Carolinian forest diversity. Funds were contributed by Nature Conservancy Canada ($1.2M), MNR ($300K) and other partners.
There are six remaining impairments to beneficial uses. The impairments pertaining to fish and wildlife consumption, degradation of benthos, and restrictions on dredging activities are affected by both current point and non-point sources of contamination, as well as by in situ sediment conditions. Remedial actions for these sources are ongoing. Implementing non-point source actions (e.g. watershed management of urban and agriculture runoff) will have a direct bearing on beach closings. A long term habitat management plan for both Michigan and Ontario is needed to ensure further habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement implementation actions. Potential activities for support under the GLSF would relate to planning studies to address outstanding urban runoff issues and the development of a long-term strategy for implementing the habitat management plan.
A zone of sediment with elevated mercury and organic contaminant levels extends in an intermittent fashion several kilometres south from the Sarnia industrial complex to the east of Stag Island along the Ontario shoreline. The most highly contaminated section of the river is a 2 kilometre section starting at the upper portion of the Dow Chemical Inc. property line. Dow Chemical is expected to complete remediation of sediments adjacent to their property in 2003. Environment Canada and MOE, with industry participation, are investigating the best approaches to managing the remaining contaminated sediment.
FOUR PARTY AGREEMENT
In 1998 Environment Canada, Ontario MOE, USEPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality signed a Letter of Commitment that delineates agency roles and responsibilities for the St. Clair River, Detroit River and St. Marys River Binational AOCs. The agencies agree to provide leadership for RAP implementation and restoration, involve the public, monitor and report on progress and ultimately delist these AOCs. In 2000 the agencies clarified areas of joint responsibility for the RAPs in a Compendium of Position Papers available on the web at:
The Four Agencies are using the Letter of Commitment to address water quality concerns for Lake St. Clair using a watershed approach and treat the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River holistically. A monitoring program to track the restoration of beneficial uses is being developed for the corridor and will inventory existing Federal, State, Provincial and local monitoring efforts, determine where gaps exist and how to fill them, establish a compatible format, and enable all parties to have access to monitoring information.
Intensification of actions regarding remediation of sediment contamination, control of stormwater/urban runoff, and rehabilitation of habitat may result in delisting the remaining BUIs on the Canadian side but full delisting of this binational AOC is not expected to occur in the near term.
Recent studies by the Canadian Wildlife Service have shown no deformities or reproductive impairments in terns or snapping turtles. This BUI has been recommended for delisting. The status of the BUI fish tumours and other deformities is being discussed after a recent study suggests that liver tumour incidence is not higher than in control populations.
Planned ongoing improvements to sewage treatment and stormwater systems in Ontario and Michigan will contribute significantly to delisting the beach closing and aesthetic impairments. Reconversion of agricultural land to wetlands is scheduled over this decade and will help restore the loss of fish and wildlife habitat impairment. Addressing sediment contamination in priority areas and improving the St. Clair, MI waste water treatment will collectively contribute to resolving the impairments of dredging restrictions, benthic population dynamics and restrictions to sport fish consumption.
- Date Modified: