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Protecting the Great Lakes

This summer will be a tough time for the Great Lakes. Media in the U.S. and Canada reported that there will be a significant algae bloom in Lake Erie this year. Although it will be smaller than the one in 2017, there’s still cause for concern.

Lake Erie is important since it supplies drinking water to more than 11 million people on both sides of the border. It’s also home to the world’s largest freshwater fisheries.

Blooms are generally caused by excess nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that cause increased growth of algae and green plants. As more algae and plants form a large mass called a “bloom”, others die and become food for bacteria that use up the oxygen in the water, causing fish and aquatic insects to die. Some types of algae can also harm humans and animals.

Ontario made a commitment with Michigan and Ohio to reduce phosphorus loadings to the western and central basins of Lake Erie by 40 per cent by 2025 and subsequently negotiated with the federal government for measures to meet that target under the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan. Implementation of the 120 actions is underway.

It isn’t just Lake Erie that needs protection—the rest of the Great Lakes do too.

The U.S. and Canadian governments signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement 2012 and both countries are working towards their commitments related to nutrients, toxic pollution (called "chemicals of mutual concern"), discharges from vessels, aquatic invasive species, biodiversity, and other issues. As well, implementation of the GLWQA in Canada also requires agreement between the federal and provincial governments. The 8th Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health was signed in 2014 and will be in force until December 17, 2019. (For CELA’s research on the GLWQA and the COA, visit our collection.)

A recent survey on public perception of the world’s largest freshwater system found that 88 per cent of respondents believe protecting the Great Lakes is highly important and are willing to pay more to ensure their restoration.

Earlier this month, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced $8.95 million in funding over four years for 36 local projects across the Great Lakes Basin, that promises to help restore areas of concern, prevent toxic and nuisance algae, reduce the release of harmful chemicals, engage the public through citizen science, and engage Indigenous Peoples.

CELA has been involved in protecting the Great Lakes for many years. You can read more about our work on the Healthy Great Lakes program. We also joined several other organizations in creating a list of priorities to help guide legislators so they’ll better protect Ontario’s freshwater.

We all know water is important for the very survival of humans. But we need to do a better job of ensuring it remains good to the last drop.