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Evaluation of Freshwater Programs under the Action Plan for Clean Water


This report presents the findings of the evaluation of the Freshwater Programs. The evaluation is part of Environment Canada’s Risk-Based Audit and Evaluation Plan for 2010–2011 approved by the Departmental Evaluation Committee on April 1, 2010. The evaluation has been conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada (TBS) 2009 Evaluation Policy.

The layout of this final report is as follows:

  • Chapter One provides a description of the Freshwater Programs;
  • Chapter Two discusses the objectives of the evaluation and the methodological approach;
  • Chapter Three presents the evaluation’s findings related to relevance, design and delivery, and performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy);
  • Chapter Four presents the conclusions; and
  • Chapter Five presents the recommendations.

1.1 Program Profile

1.1.1 Background

Canada’s coastline is the longest in the world and its landmass contains about 7% of the world’s freshwater. The management of Canada’s coastal, ocean and inland freshwater resources is a complex transnational matter involving municipal, provincial, territorial and federal governments. In late 2007 and early 2008, the Government of Canada made a series of national announcements under the Action Plan for Clean Water to meet these stewardship responsibilities.

Under the Action Plan, the Government committed over $96.9 million over 8 years to act on water pollution issues in Canadian freshwater systems in the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe and Lake Winnipeg Basins.1 Managed by Environment Canada (EC), the primary goal of the Freshwater Programs is to improve water quality in three freshwater ecosystems by removing or containing harmful pollutants in priority areas of the Great Lakes and reducing excess nutrients, from rural and urban sources, in the Lake Winnipeg and Lake Simcoe basins.

The Freshwater Programs comprise three components: the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative (LWBI), the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund (LSCUF), and the Great Lakes Sediment Remediation Projects (GLSRP).

1.2 Program Components

1.2.1 Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative

Environment Canada has committed $17.7 million over 4 years to clean up Canada’s sixth largest freshwater body--Lake Winnipeg--with provincial and community stakeholders through the LWBI (2008–2009 to 2011–2012).2 Lake Winnipeg is fed by a vast basin covering 960,000 km2 extending over 4 provinces and 4 states.

The problems facing the lake are the result of excessive phosphorous and nitrogen from farms and municipal wastewater, more than half of which originate outside Manitoba’s borders.

The LWBI has five goals:

  1. reduce blue-green algae blooms;
  2. ensure fewer beach closings;
  3. keep in place a sustainable fishery;
  4. provide a clean lake for recreation; and
  5. restore the ecological integrity of the lake.

This initiative focuses on cleaning up the Lake Winnipeg Basin through three types of activities: scientific research ($12.1 million); community stewardship funding ($3.7 million); and collaboration on watershed governance ($1.9 million).

The LWBI involves the following components.

  • Lake Winnipeg Science (Research, Information, Monitoring). A science plan3 was implemented to help inform a basin-wide management plan by providing base data on the lake; assessing the effectiveness of nutrient management plans and practices; and creating a single-window information portal for data sharing with key federal partners. The science plan is underway with research, monitoring and information activities and projects, most of which are multi-year projects spanning the four years of the initiative.

The LWBI science program also provided some contribution funding to external organizations in support of science activities. The science plan was prepared with the following six deliverables:4

  1. Characterize the physical, chemical and biological nature of Lake Winnipeg to better understand the balance of nutrient enrichment to the lake and the productivity of the fisheries in relation to the proliferation of large blue-green algal blooms.
  2. Undertake research and monitoring activities to establish watershed and in-lake nutrient budgets. Additional monitoring sites will be added throughout the basin and will be integrated, where appropriate, with existing water quantity stations.
  3. Undertake research, with a particular emphasis on addressing and managing non‑point source contributions of nutrients in the watershed and ultimately to the lake, to assess the efficacy of beneficial management practices (BMPs) on the landscape.
  4. Conduct targeted research on the economic value of water, and assess how effective regulatory instruments and social policies are in managing nutrient inputs on a watershed scale.
  5. Develop a single-window information portal to promote data sharing with key stakeholders, and allow appropriate data sharing with other networks.
  6. Provide a scientific basis, based on the results of LWBI research and monitoring, to inform the development of nutrient objectives for Lake Winnipeg and major tributaries, and performance indicators to assess the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg and the watershed.
  • The Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund. Environment Canada allocated $3.7 million to develop and administer the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund (LWBSF). Through this contribution fund, the federal government invests with other governments and environmental organizations in community-based projects. Projects are cost-shared and must have concrete, demonstrable results to reduce nutrient loads and pollutants. A multi-partite technical review committee and a public advisory committee provide input and recommendations on the funding proposals. The fund was established with $2.6 million in grants and contributions funding available for projects that reduce pollutants; restore ecological balance; and prevent harmful substances such as phosphorous and nitrogen from entering the lake. The Stewardship Fund’s contribution is limited to one third of project costs and targets a one-third provincial contribution. In some cases, the Fund may provide up to two thirds of total project costs. Emphasis is placed on leveraging other funding sources and collaborators.

Table 1.1 presents the total value and number of Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative science and stewardship contribution agreements between 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Table 1.1: Value and Number of LWBI Science and Stewardship Contribution Agreements: 2008–2009 to 2010–2011
Agreement StartingScience NumberScience ValueStewardship NumberStewardship ValueTotal NumberTotal Value
Grand Total9$665,00033$2,043,95542$2,708,955
  • Lake Winnipeg Governance. The Canada-Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin was developed under the LWBI. The MOU, announced on September 13, 2010,5 was concluded pursuant to section 4 of the Canada Water Act, and is intended to provide for a long-term collaborative and coordinated approach between the two governments to ensure the sustainability and health of the Lake Winnipeg Basin. The MOU Steering Committee, chaired by Environment Canada and Manitoba Water Stewardship, has been established to oversee the implementation of the MOU and the development of subsidiary arrangements.

1.2.2 The Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund

Under the Freshwater Programs, $29.03 million was allocated over 4 years (2008–2009 to 2011–2012) to the LSCUF to support priority projects at the community, lake-wide and watershed-wide level. The fund is intended to provide financial and technical support to implement priority projects aimed at reducing phosphorus inputs, restoring fish and wildlife populations, and enhancing research and monitoring capacity that are essential to making progress in relation to the restoration of the Lake Simcoe Basin watershed. The strategic priorities for the fund are reviewed on an annual basis.

Twice a year, EC sends out a call for proposals for projects. Under the terms and conditions of the LSCUF, EC may provide up to two thirds of project costs. Eligible project proponents include landowners, First Nations, NGOs, universities, industry, watershed municipalities, the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority, Ontario provincial ministries and other government departments.

Proposals are assessed by Environment Canada for eligibility and adherence to program goals and objectives, and then by a technical review committee (TRC) and public advisory committee (the Protect and Preserve the Environment of Lake Simcoe Committee (PROPEL)). The TRC focuses specifically on the technical and scientific merits of proposals and identifies information gaps to steer LSCUF-funded research and monitoring to support informed decisions to restore Lake Simcoe. Technical review committee members include Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

The role of the PROPEL Committee, which was formed by the Minister of the Environment, is to advise the Minister on

  1. priorities for action within the scope of the LSCUF program;
  2. priorities for funding from amongst the eligible projects submitted for consideration; and
  3. the effectiveness of the management of the LSCUF.

The PROPEL Committee reviews all LSCUF funding proposals and accompanying comments from the TRC and then ranks and recommends the projects for funding. The federal Minister of the Environment is responsible for final project funding decisions.

A total of 7 rounds of funding were undertaken under the LSCUF from 2008–2009 to 2011–2012; round 8 was cancelled due to insufficient funds remaining. Projects funded by round varied from 17 to 34 projects, for a total of 163 funded projects in the following areas: addressing non-point source pollution and habitat (96 projects); addressing point pollution sources (24 projects); and research and monitoring (43 projects).6

1.2.3 The Great Lakes Sediment Remediation Projects (GLSRP)

Contaminated sediments constitute an ongoing source of persistent toxic substances to the waters and biota of the Great Lakes, impacting ecosystem quality at the local level and contributing to the overall degradation of the Great Lakes. The remediation of contaminated sediment is an essential prerequisite to a longer-term objective of the Canada–U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) to fully restore environmental quality in a number of Areas of Concern (AOCs) in the Great Lakes.

Remedial action plans (RAPs) have been established in each of the AOCs to assess the nature and extent of beneficial use impairments (BUIs)7 and to develop strategies to restore beneficial uses, ultimately leading to the delisting of the AOCs. The federal Great Lakes Action Plan (GLAP) is a separate program that funds the assessment, design and development of sediment remediation plans to lay the foundation for sediment remediation projects.

Because sources of contamination in the Great Lakes often occurred decades ago, “the polluter pays” principle cannot be applied as polluters may no longer exist or do not assume responsibility to provide ongoing funds to support remediation efforts.

The GLSRP provides funding over eight years (2008–2009 to 2015–2016) for the implementation of contaminated sediment remediation plans in eight Canadian AOCs on the Great Lakes--Hamilton Harbour, the Niagara River, the Detroit River, the St. Marys River, Thunder Bay, Peninsula Harbour, the St. Clair River and the Bay of Quinte. Federal funds are utilized to complete sediment remediation actions that may involve constructing containment structures around and over submerged contaminated sediments; capping sediments; removing, treating and disposing of sediment; and assisting natural recovery with long-term monitoring.

Under the terms and conditions of the GLSRP, contribution funding for sediment remediation in six of the eight Great Lakes AOCs is cost shared under the existing mechanism of the Great Lakes Sustainability Fund (GLSF). The terms and conditions of this fund require that federal funding cover no more than one third of the total project cost. For the Niagara River and Hamilton Harbour, GLSRP O&M funds were to be used to transfer funds to other federal government department leads for sediment remediation costs, with the leveraging requirement being more flexible.

The following table presents the budget allocation of GLSRP funds to each AOCs as per the 2007 estimates.

Table 1.2 presents Great Lakes Sediment Remediation Projects budget allocation by each Area of Concern.

Table 1.2: GLSRP Budget Allocation by AOC
Hamilton Harbour$30M
Niagara River$3.0M
Detroit River$0.6M
St. Marys River$2.4M
Thunder Bay$2.0M
Peninsula Harbour$2.7M
St. Clair River$3.3M
Bay of Quinte$0.2M
Program Cost$4.7M

1.2.4 Stakeholders and Recipients

Environment Canada is the lead department for the Freshwater Programs. Other stakeholders include the following.

  • Federal departments, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Parks Canada (PC), and Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), participate on technical advisory committees and these departments also provide programming related to the freshwater bodies included under the Freshwater Programs.
  • Other government jurisdictions, particularly Manitoba and Ontario, are engaged through formal agreements (the Canada–Manitoba MOU Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin and the Canada–Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin (COA)), participate on various committees, and also provide funding and programming. Manitoba Water Stewardship and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) play a role in this area.

Partnering with others financially are a requirement of all projects funded through contribution agreements under the LWBSF and the LSCUF. Project proponents include regional conservation authorities or districts, provincial and municipal governments, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, local community-based groups, and the private sector. These organizations may also act as collaborators.

1.3 Governance Structure

The Freshwater Programs are administered by Environment Canada under the Ecosystem Sustainability Board (ESB). Responsibility for the Freshwater Programs is distributed on the basis of program component. The Great Lakes Division and Strategic Integration and Partnerships Division in the Ontario Region are responsible for the GLSRP and the LSCUF, respectively, while the Science and Technology Branch holds responsibility for the LWBI, in cooperation with the Prairie and Northern Region (PNR).

Governance mechanisms include a mixture of pre-existing and new structures, which were described previously (Section 1.2).

1.4 Program Resources

Funding of $96 million over 8 years was allocated to the Freshwater Programs in Budget 2007. Of this, $37.83 million was allocated over 4 years to support contributions to eligible recipients to achieve the Freshwater Programs objectives. The breakdown of contribution funding for the Freshwater Programs is as follows:

  • $2.67 million to support the Lake Winnipeg Basin Stewardship Fund and 0.87 million to support research, information and monitoring for Lake Winnipeg;
  • $11.42 million towards the federal share of costs to remediate contaminated sediment in 6 AOCs in the Great Lakes delivered through the GLSF; and
  • $22.87 million to support the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund.

In establishing contribution agreements, the programs are directed to seek a cost-sharing ratio from the provincial governments and other groups that propose projects to access contribution funds. The goal is to ensure that federal funds leverage other resources in these areas of federal interest.

The remaining funds (O&M) are used by Environment Canada to

  • contribute the federal share to remediate contaminated sediment in two AOCs8;
  • support science and monitoring in Lake Simcoe;
  • develop and implement a science plan, purchase required capital goods, and establish a federal-provincial governance mechanism for the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiatives;
  • support strategic communications; and
  • pay for salaries and operations management at Environment Canada.

The original budget allocation for the three Freshwater Programs is presented below. All programs have reprofiled funds in each fiscal year.9 The amount that has been reprofiled for the GLSRP is significant and is due to delays in initiating sediment remediation projects in five of the eight AOCs. This issue is discussed in more detail in Section 3.2.1. A summary of the reprofiled budget allocation follows.

Table 1.3: Original Budget Allocation10

Table 1.4: Reprofiled Budget Allocation11

1.5 Logic Model

Figure 1 shows the program logic model for the Freshwater Programs, which presents a graphical depiction of how the activities and outputs of the program relate to immediate, intermediate and ultimate outcomes. Logic models for each of the Freshwater component programs are included in Appendix A (under separate cover).

Logic Model: Fresh Water Programs

1.6 Performance Reporting and Evaluations

The LWBI and LSCUF are new initiatives and have not been evaluated previously. The GLSRP has not been evaluated; however, other aspects of EC programming in the Great Lakes have been subjected to review. Key reviews include

  • an evaluation of GLAP IV (2010);
  • the review of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem Initiative (GLBEI) by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) completed in 2008 (a follow-up to the 2001 CESD audit);
  • the GLBEI’s participation in a Treasury Board Management Accountability Framework exercise (2008); and
  • a mid-term review of GLAP IV (2007).

In addition, the federal government must report biennially to the International Joint Commission (IJC) on progress developing and implementing remedial action plans (RAPs) in each of the AOCs. The Commission, in turn, assesses progress on the achievement of GLWQA goals and objectives, and provides advice to the Canadian and United States governments. There are also annual reporting requirements under the COA based on input from all the participating federal departments and provincial organizations that are parties to the COA.

1 The Action Plan for Clean Water also includes the Oceans Action Plan, Plan of Action for Drinking Water in First Nations Communities, and Building Canada: the Plan. These actions are the responsibility of other government departments and are not included in the Freshwater Programs evaluation.

2 Cleaning Up Lake Winnipeg, Environment Canada (August 2010).

3 The goal of the science plan is to understand the gaps related to ecology and nutrient cycling, and the sources and transport mechanisms for nutrients, in order to provide a basis to establish nutrient objectives and performance indicators for the Lake Winnipeg.

4 Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative: Science Plan 2009/2010 Update. Dr. John Lawrence. January 4, 2010.

5 Environment Canada. Manitoba. News Release. Canada and Manitoba sign agreement to collaborate on cleaning up Lake Winnipeg. September 13, 2010.

6 Non-point pollution sources include surface water runoff from urban areas, fertilized fields, pastures, livestock holding areas, runoff from non-fertilized lands, atmospheric deposition, and groundwater seepage. Point pollution sources include industrial and municipal sewage and wastewater discharges, combined sewer overflows, urban storm water sources, and channelled runoff associated with large livestock operations.

7 The GLWQA identifies 14 beneficial uses in the Great Lakes system (e.g., related to fish and wildlife health, recreational use, water quality). A beneficial use impairment is a change in the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of the Great Lakes system sufficient to cause an impairment in any of the 14 uses.

8 O&M funds will be used to fund the project managers (the Hamilton Port Authority, PWGSC, which will be managing the Hamilton Harbour project), and Transport Canada in these AOCs.

9 When a department makes a request to reprofile funds (i.e., to move funds allocated in one fiscal year to a future fiscal year), the request is accompanied by an explanation for unused funds (e.g., delays in project implementation) and an assessment of risk if the funds are not reprofiled.

10 Total amounts do not include corporate support services, employee benefit plan amounts, and PWGSC accommodations.

11 Total amounts do not include corporate support services, employee benefit plan amounts and PWGSC accommodations.

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