New Canada US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Signed Today

Stresses compound for the Great Lakes. Action plans are still to come.

Sep 07 2012

Media Availability and Backgrounder

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has been involved for three decades in campaigns and diverse efforts to strengthen and implement the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. In has taken eight years to discuss the need for a new Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), to determine its scope, and remedies for governance challenges then to move on to the formal review and negotiation of this new Agreement.

“CELA participated on the Stakeholder Advisory Panel to the Canadian government during these negotiations with expectations that we would emerge with a comprehensive prescription for action to address both new and emerging issues” said Sarah Miller CELA Researcher. “However, the significantly revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed in Washington today is primarily aspirational and administrative. It delegates action plans for the 10 Agreement Annexes to committees (to be established). Not all of these committees have deadlines to produce plans. Three new concerns have been added to the new Agreement. These are Aquatic Invasive Species Annex 5, Habitat and Species Annex 7 and Climate Change Impacts Annex 9. Urgency is only addressed with action deadlines for Annexes 5 and 7”. Priority has also been given to reducing phosphorous loading to Lake Erie.

Important components of previous Agreements that have become the trademark of the GLWQA have been lost. In particular, the lists for Specific Objectives to address Persistent and Non-Persistent Toxic Substances found in Annex 1 of the previous 1978 (Revised) Agreement are not set out in the new Agreement. “These lists and the historic embodiment of “virtual elimination” have inspired several generations of action on chemical management not only in the Great Lakes but world-wide.” states Fe de Leon, CELA Researcher. “We are concerned with this loss at a time when attention is still needed for chronic pollutants like mercury that persist in the environment and at a time when there is a need for mechanisms to ensure new programs are in place for new toxic threats. The new Chemicals of Mutual Concern Annex 3 does not have timetables to support a commitment to rebuild a new health based list of priority substances”.

“Increased resources will be necessary to adequately implement both the new and historic components of the 2012 GLWQA and its focus in on Science based decision-making in Annex 10. CELA questions whether adequate science capacity remains in Canada after recent layoffs of Federal scientists and the loss of the Experimental Lakes Programs which were responsible for many of the past solutions found for Canadian fresh waters” said Rick Lindgren, CELA Counsel.

“The new Agreement has a near-shore and Lakewide Management Annex 2 focus which will place demands in hard economic times on shoreline municipalities” said Executive Director and Counsel Theresa McClenaghan. “CELA is relieved that we finally have a new Agreement but recognise that we will need to escalate our work with others in the Great Lakes community to ensure the Federal Budget and the implementing arrangements to be set out in a new Canada Ontario Agreement have committed adequate resources to restore a preventative and precautionary-based science and implementation programs that anticipate and prevent further harm to the Great Lakes.”

The US administrations have committed the largest investment in two decades toward escalating their Great Lakes clean-up 2010-2014 following priorities set out in their Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. “Committing similar resources in Canada could prevent further harm and prevent future costly remedial actions” said Sarah Miller.

The need for concerted action has never been greater. The summer of 2012 has made stresses to the Great Lakes palpable to all those who treasure and depend on this fragile ecosystem. Water levels have dropped to record lows, impacting wetlands and aquatic health. Algae blooms appearing earlier and persisting longer are more toxic and have occurred for the first time in Lake Superior, the deepest and most pristine of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie is dying again from diverse interactions that are not well understood but are exacerbated by the introduction of invasive species and climate change impacts. After the Labour Day weekend Canadians opened their papers to learn that “Tens of thousands of rotting fish are lining a 40-kilometre stretch of shoreline along Lake Erie, reports the provincial environment ministry, which is investigating …”

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For more information please contact:
Sarah Miller Senior Researcher Canadian Environmental Law Association millers@lao.on.ca
Office: 416 960-2284 ext. 213
Weekend: 416 203-0821