Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller says he’s optimistic the latest agreement between Ontario and the federal government will “take care of cleaning up” the Great Lakes.
Miller said in a news release that parts of the agreement dealing with protection of fish, wildlife and habitat protection and aquatic invasive species are all important locally.
Miller also said he told Environment Minister John Baird no more study is needed and that “the time for action is now” to correct past dredging of the St. Clair River, which Miller is convinced is causing lower water levels in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.
However, dredging and its impacts on water levels is not directly addressed in the 2007 Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem, Environment Canada spokesperson Denis Simard said, though federal money is helping fund a joint international study of the matter.
Miller’s optimistic view of the agreement contrasts with environmentalists critical of the deal. They say it contains vague goals toward cleanup and doesn’t commit enough money.
“To say, ‘We’ll virtually eliminate this,’ or ‘we’ll phase out that,’ that’s all well and good, but you need to have timelines and actual solid plans in place,” said Environmental Defence spokesperson Mike Layton.
The funding committed to the agreement is up slightly compared with previous deals, but it’s still not nearly enough, Layton added. The Ontario government announced recently the cost to clean up Hamilton Harbour is $90 million. Baird said the federal government might spend $100 million a year on Great Lakes issues.
The agreement on the Great Lakes basin ecosystem focusses on cleaning up 15 specific hot spots around the Great Lakes, including Hamilton Harbour, where environmental damage is the worst. None of the sites are in Grey-Bruce.
The agreement extends for another three years many ongoing efforts, generally promises to support efforts to reduce harmful pollutants, improve water quality, conserve fish and wildlife species and habitats, lessen the threat of aquatic invasive species and improve land management practices within the Great Lakes Basin.
It includes an array of goals and plans to achieve them, contains promises to support research and monitoring, but gives few specifics.
For example, one part of the agreement refers to “making progress on rehabilitation of Lake Huron native species such as lake sturgeon, lake trout and walleye.”
Environment Canada’s Simard said in an e-mailed response to Sun Times questions that this part of the agreement refers to new tributary rehabilitation projects in the Bighead, Saugeen and Sydenham Rivers. The targeted fish species are salmonids, including trout, which use these rivers for spawning.
Lake Huron native fish populations and their habitats are the
focus of the current agreement, Simard said. Walleye habitat is being rehabilitated through the Moon River Walleye Rehabilitation Project in eastern Georgian Bay. Lake sturgeon stocks also use the area and their populations may improve, Simard said.
He said there are numerous shallow and deep water shoals in eastern Georgian Bay and in the open waters of Grey and Bruce counties.
Acoustic monitoring of lake trout and whitefish spawning reefs has been completed and information is now being assessed, Simard said.
New areas of cooperation in the agreement include protecting sources of drinking water, understanding the impacts of climate change and encouraging sustainable use of land, water and other natural resources.
Jim Manicom, chief administrative officer of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, said it’s nice to see references to entire watersheds in the federal-provincial agreement and that invasive species are a priority. But he said more money is needed to restore programs cut in the 1990s.
Programs which used to help pay to replace old sewage systems, fence out cattle from streams and make other changes need to be restored to improve the quality of water that ends up in the Great Lakes, he said.
Miller’s concerns about dredging will be studied by the International Joint Commission, which this year began a five-year, $17.5-million study to explore causes for the lower water levels in the the upper Great Lakes.
Research suggests the hole caused by dredging, riverbed mining and shoreline changes has dropped water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron and Georgian Bay by 60 centimetres since 1970 and it’s worse than first thought.