Canada-Ontario Action Plan for addressing algae blooms in Lake Erie needs work

Today the the federal and Ontario governments released their draft action plan for addressing algae blooms in Lake Erie. 

While this is a start, and we are encouraged to see there is an opportunity to provide public input before it is finalized, the plan needs to be strengthened to adequately address the increasingly frequent and severe algae blooms afflicting the lake.

Phosphorus pollution from agricultural fields and greenhouses is a key factor in causing algal blooms in the lake. While we are pleased to see that the draft plan addresses pollution from municipal wastewater facilities and greenhouses, including a commitment to ensuring compliance with the rules, it fails to adequately address pollution from agricultural fields. Instead, there is an over-reliance on voluntary actions from the agricultural sector.

The plan needs to be strengthened in key areas including: addressing non-compliance in cases where farms do not follow the pollution prevention laws, doing more to protect critical nutrient-absorbing wetlands from development, and identifying interim targets for addressing pollution in the eastern portion of the lake.

Without amendments, the draft plan will not achieve the governments’ obligations to reduce phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie. Last year, under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Canada and the U.S. agreed to a 40 per cent nutrient reduction target for the lake. This target echoed a commitment that Ontario made with Michigan and Ohio in 2015 to reduce nutrient loading in the western basin of Lake Erie by 40 per cent by 2025. We are disappointed to see the 2025 timeline conspicuously missing from the draft Lake Erie Action Plan. A time-bound goal demonstrates commitment to immediate and comprehensive actions.

Lake Erie is a global treasure – it provides drinking water for millions of people, and supports a vibrant economy and a truly remarkable ecosystem.  We need policies that translate into real action to ensure Lake Erie can provide safe drinking water and continue supporting its $12.9 billion dollar recreation and tourism industry.

You can read and comment on the governments' draft action plan here. We will also be facilitating conversations and feedback over the coming two months, including at our first town hall event in Hamilton on March 28th.

Statement prepared by the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Environmental Defence, and Freshwater Future