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Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative

The Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative will provide $16 million in funding to address the complex problems of recurrent toxic and nuisance algae in the Great Lakes.


Blankets of algae were first witnessed in the lower Great Lakes in the late 1960s and 1970s. Canada and the United States responded by setting phosphorus loading targets and were initially successful in achieving objectives, primarily through improved municipal wastewater treatment. Algal blooms began reappearing in the mid- 1990s.

Algae blooms have economic, social and environmental implications. Toxic and nuisance algae blooms can lead to increased water treatment needs, disruptions to utilities by clogged water intakes, and negative effects on recreational activities such as swimming, commercial and recreational fishing, and tourism.  Generally, communities along the shores of the Great Lakes experience diminished quality of life and economic prosperity when excessive algae are prevalent.

Phosphorus is the primary nutrient causing excess algae growth. Common sources of phosphorus include fertilizers in urban and agricultural runoff, improper manure storage, municipal wastewater effluents, septic systems, and industrial discharges.

About the Initiative

The $16 million Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative will advance the science to understand and address the complex problem of recurrent toxic and nuisance algae in the Great Lakes. The Initiative will focus on Lake Erie, the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes and most susceptible to nearshore water quality issues.  The science and policy approaches developed through the Initiative will be transferable to the other Great Lakes and bodies of water in Canada.

The Initiative will target five priority areas:

  • Establishing current nutrient loadings from selected Canadian tributaries;
  • Enhancing knowledge of the factors that impact tributary and nearshore water quality, ecosystem health, and algae growth;
  • Establishing binational lake ecosystem objectives, phosphorus objectives, and phosphorous load reduction targets;
  • Developing policy options and strategies to meet phosphorous reduction targets;
  • Developing a binational nearshore assessment and management framework.

The Initiative will also help Canada to deliver on key commitments under the recently amended Canada – United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

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