Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, committee members, for inviting us here today.
We are pleased to be here to kick off your study on the Great Lakes water quality, and in particular, to talk about specific locations of environmental concern.
As you mentioned, l am joined by my colleague, Michael Goffin, who is the regional director general of our Ontario office, and Dr. Patricia Chambers, who is from our water science and technology directorate.
As is evidenced in the Great Lakes and across the entire country, there is a clear recognition of the critical importance of a safe and secure water supply to human health, the environment and the economy.
The Government of Canada is working across the country, and in the Great Lakes region, with the United States, provinces, and community stakeholders to ensure that Canadians have access to clean, safe and secure water.
To guide Canada and the United States in addressing challenges to water quality, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed in 1972 and was most recently amended in 2012. The agreement lays out clear obligations by both governments to restore and protect the Great Lakes. It also establishes Canada-U.S. mechanisms for cooperation, which is essential to our success.
Environment Canada leads Canada's efforts under the agreement, coordinating efforts with other federal departments, the Province of Ontario, municipalities, business, first nations, non-government organizations and the public.
I would like to focus my remarks today on two important agreement commitments that address geographic areas of environmental concern: the remediation of areas of concern and the effort to address toxic and nuisance algae.
Starting on the first point, the 2012 agreement reaffirms Canada's commitment to restore water quality and ecosystem health in designated areas of concern. These are specific locations, such as harbours and embayments, where water quality and ecosystem health have been severely degraded by human activity at the local level.
Of the 43 areas of concern designated by Canada and the United States, 17 are in Canada. Three of these areas have been fully remediated, and water quality and ecosystem health have been restored, leading to delisting. In a further two areas of concern, all remedial actions have been completed, but additional time is required for the environment to recover. Once restoration of environmental quality is confirmed, these sites will also be delisted.
Over the next five years we project completion of all remedial actions in a further five Canadian areas of concern. Work will continue on the remaining seven Canadian areas of concern.
The remediation process has involved significant scientific investment by Environment Canada and our partners, to define and characterize the nature, extent and causes of the environmental degradation, and to identify and recommend options for remediation.
In each Canadian area of concern, the local community has been engaged in the development of a comprehensive remedial action plan to document remedial measures required and identify the parties responsible for implementation.
To stimulate action, Environment Canada provides funding to local community-led environmental remediation projects. Since 1989, approximately $100 million has been provided by Environment Canada, leveraging over $350 million from other sources and supporting more than 900 partnered projects.
One of our main projects that we are currently leading right now is the remediation of Canada's largest contaminated sediment site in the Great Lakes, at Randle Reef in Hamilton harbour. The federal contribution to this project is $46.3 million, with similar amounts contributed by the Province of Ontario, and also by the local community.
Despite significant progress, continued effort is required to complete the remediation of Canadian areas of concern. In some instances, such as the remediation of remaining contaminated sediment sites in Thunder Bay, St. Marys River, and St. Clair River, new approaches and financial partnerships will be required.
No new Canadian areas of concern have been identified since sites were designated in 1987. It's recognized, however, that many nearshore areas are under stress from a range of factors, such as population growth and development, harmful pollutants, and invasive species.
Accordingly, Canada and the United States have committed to develop by 2016 a binational nearshore framework that will provide an overall assessment of nearshore waters, and establish priorities for nearshore restoration and protection.
The second key 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement commitment, which focuses on geographic areas of environmental concern, is the commitment to address toxic and nuisance algae.
Algae blooms in the Great Lakes were successfully faced in the past. In the 1960s and 1970s, algae development resulted in fish kills, the degradation of beaches and the clogging of water intake pipes. Phosphorus reductions were achieved through improvements to municipal wastewater treatment, limitations on phosphorus in detergents, and adoption of conservation tillage practices by farmers.
This problem has returned 40 years later and new science now shows certain species of algae are harmful to fish, wildlife, and humans.
While Lake Erie is the most affected, the shorelines of Lake Ontario and southeastern Georgian Bay and Lake Huron also experience adverse impacts. Potential impacts include threats to drinking water safety, increasing water treatment costs, degraded fish and wildlife habitat, and adverse impacts on tourism and commercial and recreational fisheries.
Reasons for the resurgence of the algae are complex and not completely understood. Phosphorus levels have declined significantly and are currently stable; however, the proportion of phosphorus in dissolved form is increasing, and this is believed to be contributing to increased algae growth. Climate change and the presence of aquatic invasive species may also play a role.
The 2012 agreement commits Canada and the United States to establish revised binational phosphorus reduction targets and management plans for the Great Lakes. Owing to the magnitude of the problem in Lake Erie, the agreement specifies completion dates of 2016 for the establishment of phosphorus reduction targets, and 2018 for establishment of phosphorus reduction plans.
Environment Canada is leading the Government of Canada response. Through the Great Lakes nutrient initiative, $16 million is being directed to research and monitoring to better understand the causes of toxic and nuisance algae growth, and to provide data and information necessary to establish new phosphorus reduction targets.
At the same time, Environment Canada is taking action to reduce phosphorus discharges. The Lake Simcoe and Southeastern Georgian Bay cleanup fund has allocated $32 million and leveraged $51 million to support nearly 200 phosphorus reduction projects. We are also working with conservation authorities in key watersheds to demonstrate best practices in watershed planning and management.
Depending on the scale of phosphorus reductions required to achieve a healthy ecosystem, new approaches and techniques may be needed. However, we've demonstrated in the past that this problem can be successfully addressed through a combination of national, regional, and local strategies.
In summary, Great Lakes water quality remains a priority for Environment Canada. The 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement lays out specific commitments for restoration and protection. We are investing in both science and actions on the ground necessary to implement this new agreement. Partnerships, both binational and domestic, are a very important component of this success.
We are making progress on remediation of the designated areas of concern and are starting to focus on understanding and addressing the problem of toxic and nuisance algae in the Great Lakes.
Finally, I'd also like to note that Canada and Ontario are nearing the conclusion of negotiations for a new Canada-Ontario agreement respecting Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health. This agreement was first signed in 1971 and has been renewed six times. It's a very important mechanism for coordinating federal and provincial actions to restore and protect the Great Lakes.
The most recent agreement, for example, was signed in 2007 and engaged three Ontario ministries and eight federal departments, and resulted in 176 specific commitments being successfully implemented over a five-year period.
That ends my opening remarks. My colleagues and I would be happy to take any questions.