Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd first like to point out that I've been accompanied today by one of Environment Canada's scientists, Dr. Susan Watson, who is available for any detailed technical questions.
Also, I believe you have a copy of my presentation, and in the interest of time, I don't propose to read the whole thing. I'd perhaps just touch on a couple of highlights and make some closing comments, if that's all right.
The first part of the presentation talks about harmful algal blooms and some of the complexities of them. In particular, some of the features that make it rather difficult for us to accurately and quantitatively assess risk from these include the fact that the cyanobacteria that produce the toxins don't always produce them. The triggers that cause them to produce toxins are poorly understood. So you could have a bloom of cyanobacteria that you could see in the pictures but without their producing toxins; in other cases, they can produce toxins, be liberated into the water, and the bloom will disappear and the toxins remain.
As for the microcystins produced by one particular species of cyanobacteria, we know of 90 different versions of microcystins and probably 200 or so related peptides that are toxic. This makes chemical analysis of them in monitoring programs a challenge; and we don't actually have analytical standards for many of the toxins that are produced.
So the highlight of the first section, or the take-home fact, is that individual species produce compounds that are different in potency, toxicity, and stability; and even within a species, there's a lot of complexity in what's produced.
We certainly agree, and have been studying these blooms right across Canada, including in prairie dugout lakes, such as Lake of the Woods and Lake Winnipeg—and Lake Erie has some similar types of blooms. In fact, pictures of Lake Winnipeg and Lake of the Woods would look very similar to the pictures Dr. Carignan presented to you.
On the potential for toxicity from these species, we've highlighted three factors on page 3 of the presentation. The potential for toxicity increases with eutrophication and, most notably, phosphorus loading. And some of Dr. Watson and her colleagues' research has indicated that algal populations with more than 50% of their population made up of cyanobacteria seem only to occur above 10 micrograms per litre of phosphorus. That's in the ballpark Dr. Carignan presented; he suggested 8 micrograms, but that's within a margin of error. So we would agree with that.
Some of the other important things we would highlight include temperature and extreme conditions. As our climate warms and growing seasons become longer, we anticipate being subjected to more severe blooms. In addition, in areas such as Lake Erie, or elsewhere in the Great Lakes, the introduction of exotic species like zebra mussels has changed the ecology. In the scientific community, we have a phenomenon we're looking at right now called the nearshore shunt, in which zebra mussels growing in shallow water seem to be trapping a lot of phosphorus, and giving rise now to a reoccurrence of algae. We thought we had eliminated some of the nearshore algae problems, but they're coming back now, and we believe these are likely related to the exotic species—zebra mussels—concentrating phosphorus in the nearshore water, putting the concentration up above 10 micrograms per litre and giving rise to some of these nuisance species.
In our 2001 report on nutrients in the environment—which this committee asked for in 1998-99—we did attempt to quantify as best we could the sources of phosphorus in the Canadian environment. In that report, the figures we quoted were that agriculture was the major source, at 56,000 tonnes annually. Municipal discharge we estimated to be 7,900 tonnes. These figures are not in my document, by the way. Industrial discharge was 2,000 tonnes, septic systems were less than 2,000 tonnes, and aquaculture was 500 tonnes. What this means, according to the 1996 figures, is that municipal discharges contribute about 12% of the total discharge of phosphorus.
Also in that report, you'll see that we estimated, as best we could based on 1996 numbers, that of that municipal discharge contribution, about 7% of it would be coming from dishwasher powders. That means that of the total discharge to the Canadian environment based on our numbers and that report, just under 1% of it would be coming from dishwasher powders.
The major source is agriculture. That's why, since that report, we've been focusing on what we can do working with the farming community to try to reduce agricultural contributions. Some of the projects we've had under way include the development of better beneficial management practices that could be employed.
In particular, we're concerned about some in the prairie provinces, because it looks as though the soil conditions there mean that the phosphorus is mostly dissolved, not bound on solids. So whereas in eastern Canada the beneficial management practices are foresting or at least having better cover along the riparian areas, such as Dr. Carignan mentioned, to prevent soil erosion, it looks as though that might be ineffective as a phosphorus control practice in western Canada if the phosphorus is largely dissolved and not bound on soil. So we're studying what can be done in places like the Red River Basin to develop beneficial management practices that are regionally relevant to local conditions. We're working with agriculture to do that, developing standards that would be linked to the environmental farm plans that were mentioned. That's how we see them being applied.
We've also initiated this year a study to try to link individual farms and sub-watersheds to their recipient water downstream. A farmer way upstream in the Red River may not actually personally connect with Lake Winnipeg and their contribution to the water. We are trying to develop this on a watershed basis, and we hope this will eventually be part of a broader Lake Winnipeg Basin initiative. Models would integrate the application of beneficial management practices throughout a watershed and tell us what that might achieve for a downstream water body in terms of the total loading of phosphorus.
We're trying to develop practices that will both attack this and reduce this agricultural source, along with better tools that would allow us to link individual farmers to the downstream environmental outcomes, so they can clearly identify their contribution to being part of the solution.
In addition to that, we're trying to better quantify inputs of septic systems to nearshore areas. We're focusing for the moment on Lake Huron, where there are nearshore algal growths and beach closures that we think might be due to septic systems. We hope in the future to do that on Lake Winnipeg as that initiative increases, and also on Lake Erie.
We think the best approach to this is on a watershed receiving water approach, looking at the total loading for each system, since it seems to us that the systems could be quite different. A Laurentian lake, for example, is likely to be quite different from a water body like Lake Winnipeg, which has a contributing area of nearly a million square kilometres, largely agricultural.
We're trying to develop those ecosystem-based, watershed-based approaches, based on loading to the sensitive water body. A couple of things come to mind as you consider this question, and I think we can be guided to some extent by history. In the 1970s, when the Government of Canada regulated phosphorus content in laundry detergent, what we saw was a switch to nitrilotriacetic acid initially, and now there are many other detergent builders. Nitrilotriacetic acid was the substitute for phosphate in laundry detergent.
Just this year we included--we screened in--in the domestic substance list screening, nitrilotriacetic acid, based on human health effects. It's important, if you're going to promote substitutions, to understand the toxicity of the products that will be substituted.
The second thing that happened when we regulated nutrients, when we reduced nutrients in places like Lake Erie, is that eventually when we got the numbers down to near our targets.... Of course phosphorus is essential for productivity as well, and so you have a trade-off. Eutrophication of course is overproductivity, but you have a trade-off between productivity of the system and effects due to eutrophication.
What we saw on the south shore of Lake Erie and in Ohio were fishermen groups complaining that we'd cut the phosphorus down too low and the walleye were too small. They launched campaigns to have phosphorus additions. There were even suggestions in Lake Ontario--although we didn't believe them--that we'd reduced the phosphorus so low that we couldn't support the salmon we were stocking.
There's a balance to be considered as well with respect to the impacts of banning something; there are potential effects that also need to be considered.
Thank you for the opportunity to make these comments.