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Fish don’t need Prozac: Protecting the Great Lakes

A recent U.S. study found that fish in the Great Lakes are on drugs. It turns out that human antidepressants are building up in the brains of 10 fish species in the Niagara River, which connects two of the Great Lakes--Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

"These active ingredients from antidepressants, which are coming out from wastewater treatment plants, are accumulating in fish brains," says lead scientist Diana Aga from the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. "It is a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned.”

These are some worrying research findings, especially when you consider the Great Lakes provides drinking water to some 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada. Protecting them should be a priority, and CELA is working hard to make sure the water quality of the Great Lakes is at the top of the provincial and federal governments’ agendas.

There are a number of policies and legal tools in place to protect the waters throughout the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Basin. One key law is Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act, 2015. Passed two years ago this month, the Act addresses some of the lakes’ biggest threats such as water pollution, wetland loss, and algal blooms. Since the Act is still new, the tricky part is implementing it.

To make sure the legislation fulfills its vision of protecting our waters and engaging residents in that work, CELA is a co-chair of the Great Lakes Protection Act Alliance. The Alliance released a report on priorities for implementing the Act in the short-term. Our report called for several items, such as establishing a community public engagement model to ensure the Act's main purposes are achieved, setting science-based targets to address the most severe threats, and empowering local communities to develop solutions to protect their water.

Earlier this year CELA launched our Healthy Great Lakes program, which is devoted to protecting and restoring waters and wetlands in the Basin by engaging individuals and organizations in shaping, implementing, and making use of existing laws and policies.

We’re also involved in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), a 45-year-old deal that coordinates the actions of Canada and the U.S. protect these precious sources of drinking water. The GLWQA is reviewed every six years, and we work closely with our partners to encourage public involvement in the review process and to support measures to protect and restore water quality.

The GLWQA was last renewed in 2012 to better identify and manage current environmental issues affecting water quality in the lakes. And it’s due for another review in 2018. We’ll continue to work with our partners to make sure the agreement helps restore the quality and ecosystem health of these bodies of water.

CELA is also involved in the on-going review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. We made a submission in April that provided a 4-step road map for action on endocrine disrupting chemicals; substances which cause hormone disruption in fish and humans.

In May 2017, CELA hosted a gathering of 40 Ontario individuals concerned about freshwater health in the Great Lakes - St Lawrence River Basin. The gathering led to the creation of this report which outlines how citizens can advocate for more protection of our waters.

The Great Lakes make up the largest body of freshwater on Earth, and Canada is blessed to have access to them. Yet as a country, we should be doing more. Three out of four of the Great Lakes are in decline, which should concern us all.

With strong legislation that is well implemented, we can make a difference to improve the water quality of the Great Lakes. Perhaps one day, when we tell future generations that the fish in the lakes were on antidepressants, the idea will strike them as being so absurd that they won’t believe us.