ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE, CANADIAN FRESHWATER ALLIANCE, FRESHWATER FUTURE CANADA

For immediate release: February 22, 2018

Canada-Ontario action plan to address Lake Erie algae blooms is a good first step, but overall falls short

Toronto, Ont. – Environmental groups are welcoming the federal and Ontario governments’ finalized plan to tackle Lake Erie algae blooms, but add it lacks the tools necessary to fully address runoff pollution from agricultural areas — the primary cause of the blooms. The plan, released today, includes 128 commitments made by governments, conservation authorities, and agricultural groups, amongst others. But the true test of the plan will be in its implementation.

“While we’re happy to see that the final plan includes some recommendations made by environmental groups and others, it’s missing one key part: enforceable requirements to reduce runoff from farms,” said Ashley Wallis with Environmental Defence. “Without this important piece, we are not confident that the plan will deliver in preventing algae blooms in the lake.”

The largest cause of the blooms is runoff pollution from agricultural lands, which happens when rain and snowmelt flush fertilizers and manure from farms into waterways. Other contributors to this problem include wastewater treatment plants, leaking septic systems, and urban stormwater runoff.

As part of the action plan, agricultural groups have committed to new voluntary programs that aim to reduce runoff pollution in rural areas. However, it is unclear how these programs will be implemented across the basin, and how results will be measured, reported and audited. As is, these voluntary programs might not be enough to make a noticeable difference in the lake.

“It’s great to see agricultural groups voicing their commitment to the health of Lake Erie, but lessons learned in Michigan and Ohio suggest that voluntary programs are not enough,” said Nancy Goucher with Freshwater Future Canada. “We need common sense regulations that ensure all farmers take precautions to reduce runoff pollution entering the lake.”

During the last decade, Lake Erie has experienced more and more toxic algae blooms. Last fall, a toxic algae bloom, which extended along Ontario’s northwest coast of the lake, was one of the largest blooms of this century. In 2014, another massive bloom caused 500,000 Toledo, Ohio and Pelee Island, Ont. residents to go without safe tap water for days. According to one report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada, if action isn’t taken to solve this problem, Lake Erie algae blooms could cost Ontarians $272 million a year.

“Thousands of Ontarians rely on Lake Erie for their drinking water, recreation and work,” said Raj Gill with Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “We need to ensure that the health of the lake is restored. And this plan is only the first step towards achieving that.”

Moving forward, environmental groups look forward to working with governments and other partners to ensure the plan is put into action. Reducing the presence and severity of algae blooms in Lake Erie will require significant change across the basin. At the end of the day, the federal and Ontario governments are accountable for ensuring the plan is funded, implemented, and actually improving the health of the lake.

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

ABOUT FRESHWATER FUTURE CANADA (freshwaterfuturecanada.ca): Freshwater Future Canada works to ensure the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region. We help citizens engage in efforts to protect our natural environment by providing grants and offering consulting assistance to diverse communities and collaborators.

About the CANADIAN FRESHWATER ALLIANCE (freshwateralliance.ca): The Canadian Freshwater Alliance builds, connects and supports freshwater initiatives across Canada. We work with NGOs, community groups, governments and businesses to strengthen citizen voices and participation in protecting our lakes and rivers. We are a project on the Tides Canada shared platform (http://tidescanada.org/).

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For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Jen Mayville, Environmental Defence Canada, 416-323-9521 ext. 228, jmayville@environmentaldefence.ca

Nancy Goucher, Freshwater Future Canada, 647-749-9472 ext 2, nancy@freshwaterfuture.org

Raj Gill, Canadian Freshwater Alliance, (705) 329-3357, raj@freshwateralliance.ca