Toronto – Canadian populations in regions around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence are growing considerably faster than the national average, according to figures released by Statistics Canada.  The report, entitled “Population change in Canada’s drainage areas” tracked population change in waterway basins in Canada from 1981 to 2006.  The rapid growth in the Great Lakes basin, according to Environmental Defence, is increasing stress on local water systems, and contributing to pollution to the lakes.
 “The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world, but it is also where a huge portion of Canada’s population growth is taking place,” said Aaron Freeman, Policy Director for Environmental Defence. “We need a serious government commitment to protect the Lakes, including a major financial investment in the next federal budget.”

Of the top ten most populous drainage areas identified in the Statistics Canada report, six are in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence basin.  The Lake Ontario and Niagara Peninsula area (GTA and Greater Golden Horseshoe) grew by 51%, while the population of Canada grew only 30% during that time. The population in Georgian Bay also increased dramatically, skyrocketing by 86% on the shores of an already sensitive ecosystem.

The Great Lakes holds 20% of the world’s available freshwater, but only 1% of the water in the Lakes is replenished annually from rain and runoff.  Currently, 40 million people get their drinking water from the Great Lakes in Canada and the United States.  Population growth rates in the region will intensify the need for freshwater, a globally scarce resource.  Recreational use will also continue to increase, placing new pressures on an already sensitive ecosystem. 

Government efforts to protect the Great Lakes need to recognize the strain that increased populations have on the Lakes.  Proper steps need to be in place to limit the impacts, including: eliminating industrial pollution and contaminated urban run-off; ensuring sewage infrastructure is adequate to service a growing population; reducing the spread of invasive species; and, protecting lake water levels. 

People living in the Great Lakes region can also do their share. Conserving water at home protects water levels and reduces pollution.  Reusing rainwater, disconnecting eaves trough downspouts from sewers, leaving surfaces unpaved, and using native plants in your yard reduces the burden on sewage treatment plants.  Using non-toxic cleaning products and properly disposing of household chemicals protect the lakes from toxic pollution.

For more information about protecting and restoring the Great Lakes, see the Great Lakes Blueprint: A Canadian Vision for Protecting and Restoring the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Ecosystem, prepared by Environmental Defence and five leading Canadian environmental organizations, available at www.environmentaldefence.ca.

About Environmental Defence: Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, safe food and thriving ecosystems. Nationwide. www.environmentaldefence.ca
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)