Thank you, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee. On behalf of the board, the staff, and the volunteers of the Bay Area Restoration Council, commonly called BARC, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to address this important issue.
I'm going to speak for less than 10 minutes and focus on part (c) of this committee's motion regarding best practices to facilitate further local environmental remediation efforts across the Great Lakes.
First l'll speak specifically about Hamilton Harbour and the remedial action plan, or RAP, there. I know you have had a number of people speak to that already in previous meetings. I'll just give a brief overview, a little bit about what BARC does, and the conditions there. I'll also make some remarks about the Great Lakes AOC program in general.
In both cases, my remarks have relevance to the federal role in local remediation efforts. My particular interest is in characteristics of stakeholder engagement processes that lead to success or failure.
BARC represents the public interest in the restoration of Hamilton Harbour and its watershed. BARC evolved from the very first citizens group to be established in 1971 in Hamilton's north end neighbourhood, literally at Gil Simmons' kitchen table, which overlooked the harbour. They were the first group of people to say that this was enough.
During the development of the Hamilton Harbour RAP in the 1980s, that initial citizens group turned into the public advisory committee, which was formally established as a non-profit charitable organization in 1991 once the RAP was under way. We have remained so in continuous operation since 1991.
BARC is a member of the official governmental-led implementation team of agencies responsible for actions that implement the remedial action plan in Hamilton, and interestingly enough also responsible for actions or activities to evaluate progress of that remedial action plan. We do so through a broad stakeholder process of gathering information and forming consensus decisions to chart that progress.
BARC encourages community activity and action by offering school programs, volunteer programs and events, community workshops, evaluative reporting on current issues, and opportunities for digital engagement and promotion. I will return to that last point in just a second.
BARC recently relaunched a new website at hamiltonharbour.ca, a project we call the digital community forum, because most of the content will be created by the community. The project aims to do more than simply provide information. We will give voice to those who want to contribute their ideas, who want to share their experiences, and who want to lead by example. The project is just beginning, but it has already attracted significant support from the Ontario government and from other institutions who recognize this as an opportunity to initiate more meaningful engagement with the community, community groups, and individuals with knowledge and initiative to undertake the kinds of changes in the community at the individual level and at the institutional and commercial levels that will be required to make the further advances in the RAP that will be necessary to meet delisting targets in the end.
With support from the federal government, BARC is also creating randlereef.ca. Randle Reef, as you probably know, is the worst remaining coal tar deposit in the country. This website celebrates this most successful milestone in the harbour's fledgling renaissance—that is, the environmental containment facility to contain and gather up all of the toxic material, including PAHs and other toxins in the sediment at Randle Reef and elsewhere in the harbour.
Third, BARC's most recent report card on the Hamilton Harbour RAP was produced in 2012 using a consensus process, as I mentioned, involving a broad stakeholder group from across the watershed. Overall, progress has been significant, but so too are the remaining challenges.
Arguably, we have passed the halfway point to delisting Hamilton Harbour AOC, which involves a record of many small victories. Although several major projects to improve waste water treatment and remediate toxic sediment are under way, the future of the RAP is somewhat uncertain. The biggest question asks whether in the end the environment will respond to the many projects currently imagined to one day improve water quality and other environmental conditions in the Hamilton Harbour watershed.
The only grade to go down in our most recent report card involved a lack of progress on controlling erosion and implementing better, more sustainable, stormwater management.
Erosion produces sediment that clogs stormwater management facilities, ruins aquatic habitats, and carries phosphorus off the landscape into receiving waters. This is an urban problem. This is a rural problem. It involves construction sites as well as farms, and it involves thousands of individual yards and driveways. This is not the low-hanging fruit.
Sediment and phosphorous must be reduced before our water quality goals can be reached. Our efforts to date have made a difference, a significant difference, but it hasn’t been enough yet. This represents what policy studies call an “implementation deficit”: the difference between the goals that we set and the results that we achieve.
The federal role can influence implementation deficits in some positive ways. Reducing external constraints on implementers, providing adequate time and resources to problem-solving, improving the coordination and collaboration of shared local experiences—all of these are roles that can be played by the federal government and influence by reducing implementation deficits in processes like remedial action plans.
Recent research into the ongoing history of the Great Lakes RAP program has provided some insights into characteristics of RAPs. The research involved the anonymous feedback of many dozens of stakeholders with direct experience in developing and implementing remedial action plans across the Great Lakes. People from Canada, from the United States, from first nations to federal employees—all of these people across this spectrum were involved.
The research collected and aggregated the following things, in three stages. It collected direct knowledge of the strengths and limitations of RAPs. Through the researchers, this led to further knowledge of what worked and what did not work in the RAP program. That in turn facilitated the emergence of actionable policy options to improve RAP processes; I should say, really, to improve environmental problem-solving, collaborative local decision-making, and action-taking processes, but the RAPs were my point of study.
Participants from across Canada and the United States, from first nations to federal employees and everyone in between involved in developing remedial action plans, ranked those options for their desirability, their feasibility, and their likelihood to succeed. I'll give you a sample of some of those actionable policy options that I think are most applicable to the federal role.
One would be to ensure government coordination involves senior personnel trained and experienced in the mediation of group processes and able to navigate political arenas.
Two, ensure continuity of government coordination, meaning that coordination roles do not go unfilled for long periods of time, and that those roles are assigned adequate and dedicated time.
Third, create stakeholder agreements and implementation work plans with assigned responsibilities, timetables, deliverables, and explicit criteria for engaging new stakeholders and new ideas.
Four, directly link science and monitoring to policy needs regarding the restoration of beneficial uses.
Five, provide an overarching strategic RAP development and implementation framework that enables local flexibility.
Importantly, the results establish that not only the structure of problem solving, but also the characteristics of problem solving, were equally significant to RAP outcomes. This has significant implications for the federal role in fixing the nearshore right across the Great Lakes.
Most impactfully, the federal role should be defined at least in part by principles such as authority can be shared without being relinquished, so collaboration needs your support. We can choose our actions but not their consequences, so flexibility needs your support. Desired outcomes benefit from incentives and champions, so locals need your support. Senior government cannot command and control problems with those involved at the local level and expect positive outcomes, but an impactful federal role can provide or ensure capacity, adaptability, and moral authority in local problem-solving processes involving diverse stakeholders.
This is the path to meaningful and successful problem-solving.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to be here this afternoon.
I'm honoured to be here today. From what I've seen from the transcripts, I am hopeful that the recommendations from your report will be positive. l'm encouraged by the calibre of your questions and the witnesses who have been before you, so congratulations.
As was mentioned, I'm Nancy Goucher and I'm the water program manager with Environmental Defence.
We're an environmental organization that inspires change to promote a greener lifestyle. One of our primary goals is to safeguard the Great Lakes. We're known for our ability to communicate and connect with the public on issues that they really care about.
The first thing that's important for you to understand is how much Canadians care about the Great Lakes. A 2007 McAllister poll found that almost three-quarters of Ontarians and Quebecers are very concerned about the pollution in their lakes and rivers. The same number describe the Great Lakes as vital to our survival. Ninety-four percent believe that environmental quality will affect the health of their children and their grandchildren. People care about the Great Lakes and they are concerned about its health. That's why its so important for you to take real action to protect the Great Lakes.
You've asked three questions as part of your study. My comments are focused on the third one: how to further remediate Great Lakes water quality. I've organized this into three categories. The first is improving control of invasive species, the second is committing federally to being a full partner in Great Lakes water quality management, and the third is just a couple of relatively easy and immediate tasks that you should accomplish.
First, invasive species such as zebra mussels and sea lamprey have had a devastating impact on the Great Lakes to date, but none may compare with what could happen should Asian carp get into the Great Lakes. Asian carp are like super-fish: they can eat mass quantities of food—up to 20% of their body weight in a day—they're incredibly athletic and can jump up to over a metre out of the water, and they're adaptable and can survive conditions that other fish can't. We call them zombie fish because they can live out of the water for up to 48 hours. What this means is that they can out-compete other native fish and devastate commercial and recreational fisheries. They can alter ecosystems and deter people from using waters for recreational purposes because the jumping fish can really hurt people and damage equipment. Just look up the YouTube videos.
Right now the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to figure out a way to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Environmental Defence is working with our U.S. counterparts to make sure that the solution they choose gets the job done once and for all, which we believe requires building barriers between the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins to permanently close off interaction between the watersheds. Depending on the option they choose, the cost is either $5 billion or $18.4 billion and expected to take up 25 years to complete.
I'm hopeful that we can win this fight against Asian carp. We're being proactive right now, and I commend the provincial and federal governments for taking action. As an example, there's apparently a new Asian carp research lab opening at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters any day now.
I do have two recommendations for further action. The first is that we need an evisceration regulation for Asian carp under the Fisheries Act so that any Asian carp being imported into Canada can be confirmed dead before they cross the border. Second, Canada needs to encourage the U.S. to build a permanent barrier between the Great Lakes and Mississippi. This could mean that we are asked to contribute financially. I'll caution that funding for Asian carp prevention is important, and this requires additional funding above and beyond the resources that are needed to address other Great Lakes issues.
Moving on to my second point, water management is under the purview of all levels of government, and in a way is the responsibility of every property owner and every water user. That's what makes this such a complicated resource to protect. l'd like to see the federal government recognize its role as a key partner in protecting Canada's water, including the Great Lakes.
Recent decisions made by the federal government can be interpreted as a move away from this partnership. An example is the drastic staff cuts at Environment Canada and DFO. Former Environment Canada employee Jim Bruce, who also presented to this committee, noted that in 1978 there were 168 scientists and technicians in Environment Canada and DFO specifically committed to working on Great Lakes pollution. Current comparable data is not easily accessible, but based on recent operational budget cuts, it's likely that we have a fraction of that capacity today.
What we know is that by 2016 Environment Canada will have half the budget it had in 2007. Our concern is that this will have a direct impact on the health and safety of Canadians. We've learned these lessons before. In the five years leading up to the Walkerton tragedy, in which seven people died and 4,800 people became ill, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment cut its budget by 68%.
Canada also has the responsibility to be a good partner to the U.S. in Great Lakes management. Through the Great Lakes restoration initiative, the U.S. has invested $1.68 billion since 2010. This does not include money for water and waste water systems or what municipalities and their partners have contributed. Comparable Canadian figures are once again not available, but according to federal budget documents, the Great Lakes action plan has received just $13 million since 2010. Even considering the per capita difference, we are investing a fraction of what they are investing in the U.S.
Scientists tell us that three out of four of Ontario's Great Lakes are in a state of decline. Things are getting worse, with increasing frequency and intensity of storm events, increase in nutrient loading, and the threat of new invasive species. This is not the time to be cutting back on science and monitoring. The Green Budget Coalition recommends that we increase funding for Great Lakes management to $115 million per year.
As well, given the lack of clarity in how much federal capacity is available to protect Great Lakes water quality, I suggest that annual reports be produced on staff capacity and operational budgets related to the Great Lakes. Reports should describe action taken on priority issues and what will be done in future to address emerging concerns.
Finally, there are a couple of immediate actions that can be taken.
First, we need to sign the Canada-Ontario agreement, known as COA. The previous COA expired in June 2012. Getting a revised COA in place is critical to demonstrating a commitment to meeting our obligations under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement protocol of 2012. We are currently waiting for a sign-off from the eight federal ministries that are involved. Anything you can do to speed that along would be appreciated.
Second is support and respect for the International Joint Commission. The International Joint Commission is a world-renowned institution that has been instrumental in preventing and resolving water disputes between Canada and the U.S. Part of its success can be credited to its ability to make science-based decisions and remain relatively politically neutral. That needs to continue.
We should start by ensuring that the three seats we have on the commission are always filled. Last year one of Canada's seats went vacant for over a year, and another for a few months. As of January, we have another vacancy, which is unfilled right now. We need a full contingent of commissioners who are intelligent and able to interpret science to make reasonable decisions on complicated cross-border water issues. Without strong commissioners it's hard to know whether we're adequately protecting Canadian interests, especially given our relatively small size compared with the U.S.
To close, we know that Canadians care about the Great Lakes and want to see their political leaders taking action to address current and emerging threats. We ask you to work together to protect the lakes from invasive species, invest more in scientific capacity, sign COA, and appoint a qualified commissioner to the IJC.
Good afternoon, everyone. As mentioned, my name is Conrad deBarros. I work with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority as a project manager, coordinating the Toronto and region area of concern remedial action plan.
I appreciate the opportunity to attend this hearing and provide my perspective on efforts to protect and improve water quality and ecosystem health within the Great Lakes basin.
Since you've heard from a great number of witnesses already who have identified the efforts and needs for areas within the Great Lakes, such as Lake Erie, the Thames River, the Grand River, the southeast shore of Lake Huron, southern Georgian Bay, and so on, I'm going to focus my presentation on Lake Ontario, and more specifically on the western basin or western end of Lake Ontario. Why Lake Ontario? The Lake Ontario basin is home to 56% of Ontarians. Urbanization is causing stress and loss of natural cover and habitat, which affects the hydraulic cycle and water quality. The Don River, which enters into Toronto's inner harbour, has been identified as among the most polluted rivers in Canada. Lake Ontario is also a downstream recipient of pollution from the other Great Lakes and the Niagara River.
I'm going to address the three areas of focus of your study. I will start with identifying locations within the Great Lakes basin that are of environmental concern and prioritization of the areas to be addressed.
I'd like to give you a quick overview of the Toronto and region area of concern. The first slide provides an outline of this area of concern and gives you some statistics on its makeup. For example, it contains six different watersheds and 45 kilometres of Lake Ontario shoreline. It's a highly urbanized area of concern and it is still urbanizing.
For the past 27 years the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has been a very active partner with Environment Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the City of Toronto in the coordination and implementation of a remedial action plan.
Over those 27 years, great progress has been made to address some of the past environmental conditions that led to the identification of Toronto and the region as an area of concern. About 35 hectares of wetland and fish habitat along the waterfront have been restored; however, this is an ongoing process, and there is still more to be done. Water quality along the waterfront has been improved, but there are still issues with urban non-point pollution from untreated stormwater and combined sewers overflowing into the Don River and Toronto's inner harbour during wet-weather-flow conditions.
Implementation of the Don River and central waterfront component of the City of Toronto's wet-weather-flow master plan is critical to protecting and improving water quality and is the major initiative required for delisting this area of concern.
One of the challenges the Toronto and region area of concern and also Hamilton Harbour area of concern have is the challenge of urban growth and development.
The slide on display tries to indicate that we are really struggling to hold the line on maintaining water quality in the tributaries. Water quality is poor, and we're holding the line on that. The graph on the slide indicates the trends. It is a slide showing chloride levels in the streams within the Toronto and region area of concern from 1965 to 2004. Chloride is an excellent tracer of urban growth. The more roads you have, the more the salt that is getting into the streams through winter salting, with resulting higher levels of chloride.
Non-point, especially urban non-point, sources of pollution are extremely difficult to manage, as mentioned before by Chris. That is one of the biggest challenges we have with the development of the urban centre in Toronto.
Beyond Hamilton Harbour and Toronto and region areas of concern, population growth is a threat to water quality in the western end of Lake Ontario. That is an area from the Niagara River to the city of Oshawa. This area is known as the Golden Horseshoe.
I'll move on to your second area of concern, which is reviewing the efforts that are planned and/or currently under way to remediate identifiable areas of environmental concern.
The greater Golden Horseshoe area is one of the fastest-growing regions in North America. By 2031 the population in this area is expected to increase by almost 4 million people above the 2001 census to 11.5 million people, accounting for over 80% of Ontario's growth.
This slide that I've put up actually relates back to Toronto, but it gives you an idea of the struggle we have and the rate of increase in the population. That relates to urban development. It is extremely hard to protect the natural cover when urban development is coming in and stripping that away.
The magnitude of this predicted growth in western Lake Ontario will severely stress the natural land cover as the landscape is paved over and hardened to accommodate the increase in population. Stream and river hydrology as well as water quality and ecosystem health both in the tributaries and Lake Ontario will suffer if this growth is left unchecked.
This slide is trying to show you again population growth. If you look at the graph on the left, it shows the growth in Ontario. This shows population growth from 1950 to 2000 around the Great Lakes, with the Great Lakes states, and you can see Ontario identified by the purple line and the rate of growth there.
What I really wanted to stress, though, is the density of population. The blue dots represent the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. If you look down here you can see where the growth is occurring, the red and orange areas, in the western end of Lake Ontario. In order to mitigate the impact of rapid growth on the ecosystem health of the western end of Lake Ontario, we need to look beyond the two areas of concern. Areas of concern were never developed to address broad-scale population growth. We need to take a more regional perspective.
Efforts to plan and implement a strategy to address population growth in this area need to be started sooner rather than later. Lake Ontario is already showing signs of stress. Cladophora, which is a long filamentous green algae that looks like long green hair growing on hardened surfaces on the bottom, has proliferated as a result of the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels.
These invasive species of mussels have also altered the cycling of nutrients in the lake. They concentrate nutrients in the lake-bed and the nearshore, resulting in increased productivity and excessive cladophora growth. The excessive cladophora growth threatens water quality, clogs water intakes at power plants, potentially resulting in unscheduled shutdowns, and when this algae breaks off from the bottom, it washes up onto shore and forms unsightly and very foul-smelling piles. We have too many mussels in Lake Ontario, too much algae in the nearshore, too little fish food, and too few fish in the offshore.
Some interesting findings from 2008 intensive binational monitoring of Lake Ontario show that we have an estimated 9.7 trillion dreissenid mussels in the nearshore area of Lake Ontario. They have the ability to filter the volume of the nearshore water in roughly one to seven days. However, the phosphorus generated by these mussels was not sufficient to sustain the populations of cladophora. Tributary phosphorus load to the lake was 234% higher than that of waste water treatment plants, and the tributary phosphorus is the driver of nearshore conditions and localized patterns of cladophora abundance, that along with the zebra mussels.
Land use patterns influence nearshore water quality, with urbanized areas having the greatest impact. Again, we need to look at urban growth and start addressing it in a more sustainable matter.
Finally, to address the last area of focus of your study in terms of recommending best management practices that will facilitate further remediation of areas of environmental concern within the Great Lakes, I have a few points.
My first point is that we need to focus on maintaining the partnerships and completing the efforts within areas of concern. We can see the horizon for many of these areas of concern to get the job done and to delist them. We are now at that point, but we also need to stay alert and aware of new threats.
One of the best management practices that has come out of the 43-plus years of Great Lakes protection and restoration is partnership. No one government, no one agency, no single group has the capacity and all the know-how to take on the task of keeping “our Lakes Great”. That's stealing a quote from someone Chris and I both know.
There are many willing and able partners to assist with this. We need to engage them, and we need to engage them in a strategic manner.
We know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let's get smarter and address predictable threats, such as population growth in the southern Great Lakes, or the expansion of the resource extraction industry that is currently occurring in Lake Superior, and develop preventative measures before the stresses to the Great Lakes manifest. On some fronts, we need to be proactive rather than reactive regarding Great Lakes protection and restoration. It makes sense; it's less expensive.
The final best management practice is eternal vigilance. We need to keep it up. We need to keep the safeguards to ensure that we're not backsliding on the amount of investment we've made over the years. We need to be aware that the lakes are changing. The climate is changing. There are new threats. We need to deal with them and adapt.
It's probably going to be hard to define exactly what it's going to mean. It's going to mean a headline in The Globe and Mail
one day when Hamilton Harbour's delisted as an area of concern. It's a national story.
Without a doubt, perception lags behind reality. Much of the community is disenfranchised from the waterfront. It's a spectacular community with the Dundas Valley, the escarpment, the waterfront. It has natural assets that communities across the country would kill for, and yet, over many decades, not only physically but through legal tools, it was illegal to touch Hamilton Harbour at one point. The majority of the shoreline was industrialized. It was cut off from the community. I literally see my job as reminding the city that it's a waterfront city again.
The impacts that those investments in those large projects have is very significant, because 50% of the water that goes back into Hamilton Harbour is through the waste water treatment plants. That means that 50% of the water doesn't go through technology. Technology is not going to save the day in this regard. Phosphorus and other sources of chemical and biological pollution will require the human touch along with technology, so law, policy, and behavioural changes will be required along with better stormwater infrastructure, for example. Today is a waste water sewage overflow day in Hamilton Harbour. We still see two billion litres of raw sewage going into the harbour every year. That's a frighteningly small fraction to what it used to be, thanks to these upgrades to waste water treatment, but there are still significant changes, both technological and non-technological, that need to be made, which are often more difficult to implement.
To answer your question, it will be a very significant development in the psyche of the community. I can tell you that there is so much enthusiasm for restoring this harbour. You can't go wrong getting behind these projects. You can't go wrong.
Absolutely. You've heard from a number of different witnesses who've talked about climate change and the impacts it will have on the Great Lakes.
There are some really basic things. You're going to have warmer waters and more intense rainfall events, and both are going to lead to an increase in algae growth, especially in Lake Erie. Also, with warmer waters and warmer winters, you're going to have less ice cover, which leads to more evaporation, which in turn leads to lower lake levels. It's more complicated than that, but that's one of the important factors.
In terms of solutions, I would say that we really need to be looking at both mitigation and adaptation. In terms of adaptation, conservation authorities and other partners on the ground have been doing a great job in working toward ways to build more resilient cities and resilient communities.
In terms of a federal role, I think there's a direct federal role for the federal government: to support communities in helping them deal with flooding and droughts, in funding infrastructure upgrades and emergency planning, and in renewing the flood damage reduction program so that we're not building in flood plains.
Also, I think we need to be looking at mainstreaming our water policies with climate change. Every decision we make in terms of water will need to consider what will be happening in terms of climate change.
On top of this, we need to be looking at mitigation. At a provincial and even a municipal level, I think we have a lot of communities working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We need a stronger federal commitment in that capacity as well.