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
The Thunder Bay AOC extends approximately 28 km along the shoreline of Lake Superior and up to nine kilometres offshore from the City of Thunder Bay. The Thunder Bay watershed is drained by the Kaministiquia River system and a number of smaller rivers and creeks. The marsh area of the harbour represents a major portion of Canadian wetlands in the Lake Superior basin. The harbour wetlands provide habitat for nesting and migrating species of birds and a wide variety of native and non-native fish. There is both a commercial and sport fishery in the AOC.
The City of Thunder Bay is the dominant economic centre in the area.Over the past 20 years there has been a reduction in the grain shipping activities in the port and a general economic decline in the area. While Thunder Bay remains one of Canada ’s largest shipping ports, public interest in diversification of the economy has stimulated harbourfront redevelopment.
Currently nine of 14 beneficial uses (GLWQA 1987) are impaired in the Thunder Bay AOC. The greatest impacts are a result of the industrial and urban development along the Thunder Bay waterfront and the Kaministiquia River (Kam) watershed. Much of the industrial land within the harbour has been constructed through a combination of draining and filling of shoreline areas, including wetlands which were degraded and reduced in area. Dredging, waste disposal, channelization, and the release of a number of pollutants have eliminated a significant portion of good quality habitat along the waterfront. The consequences have been a loss of species abundance and diversity, reduced recreational opportunities, and a decline in the aesthetic value of the area.
Improved effluent treatment and changes in industrial processes have significantly reduced impacts in recent years, however, the ecosystem remains impaired. Fish consumption restrictions are in place based on tissue concentrations of mercury and/or PCBs and toxaphene although no point source of toxaphene exists in the AOC or on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. Studies by Environment Canada have shown that toxaphene formerly used in agricultural areas in the southern United States is transported through the atmosphere to the Great Lakes. Dioxin body burdens reported in1994 in fish eating birds in harbour colonies exceed levels found in open lake colonies. Liver cancers have been reported in 1991 in white suckers although this may now be due to sources outside of the AOC since local sources have been remediated. Negative pressures on fish populations have occurred as a result of the introduction of exotic species, habitat loss, discharge of organic waste, and the in-place sediment contamination. Some areas of the AOC support only benthic communities tolerant of organic enrichment and/or contaminated sediments. Dredging activities have contributed to habitat loss and restrictions remain in effect due to sedi-ment contamination in the harbour. Elevated bacterial levels force periodic closure of local beaches as they present potential health hazards for water based recreational activities. Abandoned buildings, waste disposal, refuse, and industrial and residential development have impaired river and harbourfront aesthetics.
Strategies to address beneficial use impairments have been designed to increase aquatic and terrestrial habitat, enhance recreational opportunities, and to improve the aesthetic value of the harbour and its tributaries. The highest profile remediation project is the Northern Wood Preservers Alternative Remediation Concept (NOWPARC) designed to mitigate sediment contamination, renew habitat and improve aesthetic values of the site. Through a consortium of stakeholders, the remedial strategy to isolate the source of contamination and treat contaminated sediments has been completed with habitat restoration and revegetation activities continuing into 2003 (see sidebar).
Many water quality issues have been addressed as a result of process changes and improved effluent treatment at local pulp and paper mills. Secondary treatment and 100% chlorine dioxide substitution at the Bowater Canadian Forest Products Ltd. pulp and paper mill have resulted in dramatic improvements in effluent quality. Secondary treatment at Abitibi Consolidated Inc., Smurfit Stone, and Cascades Inc. has enabled the plants to meet requirements for loadings to Lake Superior. These improvements are expected to enhance sediment and water quality conditions and encourage the return of healthy biotic communities.
Various fish and wildlife habitat rehabilitation projects have been completed in the waterfront wetlands and along tributary streams. Projects have included improving walleye spawning habitat, restoring habitat diversity along floodways, enhancing habitat diversity within dredged navigation channels creating nearshore nursery habitat and wetland sites, and alleviating barriers to fish migration. These efforts will increase the extent of productive aquatic and terrestrial habitat by rehabilitating and protecting wetland and riparian environments. Attempts to improve salmon access to the upper reaches of the Current River have not been successful, however upgrades at the Bowater pulp and paper mill have improved water quality allowing fish migrations in the Kam River.
Since 1990, the Government of Canada’s Great Lakes Sustainability Fund has provided $8.6M towards 14 projects restoring impaired beneficial uses in the Thunder Bay AOC including $5.6M for the Northern Wood Preservers sediment remediation project. The return on this investment in partnerships has realized an additional $12.7M in direct partner funding.
Several ongoing projects are building on the notable successes in the Thunder Bay AOC. Several habitat rehabilitation projects for restoring wetland and riverine shoreline fish and wildlife habitat along the Thunder Bay waterfront and within the river mouths draining into Thunder Bay are nearing completion.
A pilot study to upgrade the City of Thunder Bay’s primary sewage treatment plant was completed and the City is proceeding with plant expansion and an upgrade to secondary treatment that will use biological aeration filtration. Secondary treatment would reduce biological oxygen demand and annual loadings of dissolved solids to the Kam River and harbour. The total cost estimate is $53M with a target set for completion in 2004.
The involvement of the public and their commitment to rehabilitation, and continued vigilance with regard to the health of this ecosystem have been important to the success of the Thunder Bay RAP. The Public Advisory Committee (PAC) has played a lead role in such projects as organized cleanups of the Thunder Bay waterfront and participation in Lake Superior Day celebrations and waterfront development workshops. The cooperation and understanding that have been fostered will undoubtedly continue to affect the community and its outlook regarding environmental concerns.
With the installation of municipal secondary sewage treatment, pulp and paper mill effluent improvements, completion of the NOWPARC sediment remediation, and numerous habitat creation projects in the AOC, it is expected that the resulting degree of restoration will allow Thunder Bay to fulfill the roles of a working harbour and a natural ecosystem. In this manner the harbour can provide a hospitable natural environment while making a crucial contribution to the local economy.
There are, however environmental issues remaining in the AOC that need attention.
SEDIMENTS ADJACENT TO CASCADES INC.
Elevated mercury levels have been found in surficial sediments in the north end of the harbour adjacent to the Cascades Inc. property. Recent surveys indicate that sediment mercury concentrations are lower now than in the early 1970’s, however, total mercury levels exceed Provincial Sediment Quality Guidelines severe effects level of 2.0 parts per million (2.0 µg/g) over an area of approximately three hectares adjacent to the Cascades Inc. effluent outfall. Biological assessment studies are planned to assist in identifying the volume of mercury contaminated sediment which may need to be remediated. One of those studies was undertaken by Environment Canada in 2002 to determine whether the mercury is bio-available and results are expected in 2003. Historic studies have estimated this volume to be approximately 20,000 cubic metres.
SLATE RIVER WATERSHED MANAGEMENT PLAN
The plan recommends that agricultural management practices in the Slate River watershed be implemented that reduce the impact of organic enrichment, turbidity, and sedimentation in the adjoining Kaministiquia River. The plan is currently being reviewed by the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority due to the low water levels that have occurred over the past two years.
Elevated levels of faecal coliform bacteria in the water have resulted in frequent and continuing beach closures. A study has examined various remedial strategies to reduce bacterial levels. Although the preferred course of action has not yet been selected, a number of improvements have already been made to public washroom facilities and septic systems nearby, both of which were identified as contributory factors to the problem.
To restore the nine impaired beneficial uses the RAP Stage 2 Report identifies 26 remedial actions of which 18 are completed. At the same time there are eleven required education and stewardship actions with four continuing. The restoration actions will be followed by 29 associated monitoring activities. In additional there are actions required to thoroughly docu-ment and report the status of the remedial and monitoring strategies to the public.
Delisting of the Thunder Bay AOC is conditional on implementing actions to remediate sediment contamination in a number of locations, secondary treatment of municipal sewage, additional improvement at Chippewa Park and the completion of habitat projects. Monitoring will verify the effectiveness of remedial measures in restoring beneficial uses.
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