Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am very pleased to be here today.
Dr. Chow-Fraser mentioned the Great Lakes areas of concern program, which has been around for some time. It's really a flagship program in the Great Lakes basin. There were 43 AOCs originally identified by the International Joint Commission in 1985 as being under intense environmental pressures, 12 of which are in Canada, plus five that are binational AOCs. Currently, there are three delisted and two in areas of recovery in Canada, so there has been progress.
What I'm going to speak about today are two of the areas of concern, the ones about which I have the most specific first-hand knowledge.
The St. Lawrence and Bay of Quinte areas of concern, like most AOCs, have a long history of industrial, urban, and rural discharges, as well as human interventions, resulting in numerous impacts, as shown in the slide, and resulting ultimately in the loss of beneficial uses, which are also known as beneficial use impairments. To remediate and restore those areas, remedial action plans were evolved and put in place using an ecosystem approach, with the aim of improving conditions so that they were equivalent to or better than the non-AOCs across the basin. In order for us to realize that we had reached that stage, delisting targets were set, which were the measures in place to establish whether or not the specific beneficial use had been restored.
Since that time, this program has been rolled out in three phases. The first phase was to identify together with community consultation the key environmental issues for that area of concern. The second phase was to identify the remedial actions that were required. Since that time, these have been under way. The last step in this process is to provide a status assessment with a delisting recommendation.
The geographic areas of the two AOCs I referred to, the Bay of Quinte AOC and the St. Lawrence AOC, are shown in this slide. The Bay of Quinte is a very important inlet to eastern Lake Ontario in the Belleville area. For one thing, it is one of the most important fish habitat areas for the entire lake. As well, among many other things, it hosts a very important recreational fishery. It's all within Canada.
On the other hand, the St. Lawrence AOC was one of the binational AOCs, meaning that it's shared between the U.S. and Canada. It's in the Cornwall area in the St. Lawrence River not too far from here. It involves Canada, the U.S., Ontario, New York, Quebec, and the Mohawks of Akwesasne. I should point out that the Bay of Quinte also involves the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
Once the remedial action plans were developed, each of these areas of concern developed restoration councils, which involved a number of federal and provincial agencies, but also involved members of the community from the first nations, industry, municipalities, conservation authorities, non-profits, and other members of the public.
In fact, the St. Lawrence River Institute, where I work, is really a child of this process. It's a little unique, so I want to take a few seconds to describe it. It resulted from the public involvement process within the first stages of the St. Lawrence AOC and reflects the partnership of the local municipalities, the Mohawks of Akwesasne, and leading citizens. It was incorporated as an NGO in 1994. We built our own facility there on the campus of a local college, with the land provided for free, but really with local funding. There was no provincial or federal support to build this facility, so there's very much a sense of pride locally. We currently have a core staff of 14, with scientists, technicians, and educators.
What do we do? We provide contributions for local science. This is what it was initially designed for: to provide expertise for the local scientists in an area of concern like Cornwall, which of course has a blue-collar background. Research and university partnerships have been key, as well as education and public engagement. The experience gained from working so closely with the AOC process in Cornwall has been passed on to other AOCs, particularly the Bay of Quinte's.
I'll highlight the types of projects that have been put under way through this area of concern and remedial action plan process. Obviously, we have abatement of industrial and municipal discharges, including sewage treatment plant upgrades, retrofits to stormwater facilities, and tracking down.... Once you turn off the big taps, you have to turn off many smaller ones, so there's the fugitive source track-down in terms of industrial contaminants and brownfield sites, as examples. We have habitat restoration and long-term plans such as municipal pollution plans.
All of this leads to improving water quality, and it has led to water quality improvement. In the graphic shown here, you can see the improvement in bacteria levels from where they were in the 1980s, when they numbered over thousands of colonies per 100 millilitres, to down below 100 after these actions have been taking place. The water quality criteria are shown in red.
Each of these areas, Bay of Quinte and the St. Lawrence River, have large agricultural areas, so it's very important to have rural projects such as erosion control, septic system upgrades and inspections, fencing projects, farm manure containment, and many of these other best management practices that are required to deal with these non-point source issues.
Also important in both of these AOCs has been public engagement, engaging the public in the process. For example, the landowners who were involved in these BMP implementations are volunteers. We have public consultation and other mechanisms, and even children's water festivals that happen both at the St. Lawrence AOC, with over 2,000 students being educated each year on these issues, and at the Bay of Quinte. For the last 21 years, our river institute has hosted an annual symposium to talk about Great Lakes water quality and St. Lawrence water quality.
These programs are very, very important, and their progress is an important indicator of Great Lakes recovery and of government commitment. They often involve big-ticket items that require partnerships at all levels. The progress has been slow, as I think most people would consider it, but there's a number of very good reasons for that, one of which is that science is not always clear-cut. We always think of science being black and white, but it's not always.
There have been game-changers that we've talked about already in terms of the zebra mussels and other invasive species, human interventions, development pressures, clearing for crops, and the obscuring effect of climate change. We've had to go back to the drawing board a number of times and reassess the initial delisting targets to see whether they still make sense.
Also, really, you have slow environmental recovery. I have a couple of examples of how that's occurring. I think there's some really interesting information here.
Mercury has been a key issue, with mercury contamination of sediments and in fish in the St. Lawrence area of concern. You can see in the graphic that there has been a gradual improvement over time in sediment mercury, but it has taken over 30 years to see that improvement. As you can see, the red levels, those are the highest levels, have declined down into the blues and the yellows. You still have high levels at Cornwall, so we have a sediment management strategy there to deal with that.
The next slide shows another example. It's the slow decline of contaminants in fish. Here you can see mercury concentrations before the AOC was involved. Afterwards, as you can see, there's a slow decline, but as for the levels now, many of these fish are still above the consumption guideline, which is shown in red here. It's the same sort of story in the Bay of Quinte, where you have PCBs that have declined quite dramatically. They're now tapering off at or near the consumption guideline limit. Continued monitoring, track-down and abatement of fugitive sources are required on this issue.
You've heard a lot about eutrophication or undesirable algae. Nutrient inputs are a very big problem for the Bay of Quinte and the nearshore of the St. Lawrence River. Our graphic shows the inputs at high levels from the Raisin River tributary. Actually, the main body of the St. Lawrence pushes those inputs into the nearshore area, so you still have high levels downstream. Ongoing implementation of these best management practices on agricultural and urban lands, and long-term phosphorus control programs...for example, the Lake Simcoe strategy may be a possible model in the Bay of Quinte.
To give you a little bit on progress, the delisting progress is occurring, slowly. In fact, the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall AOC status has been submitted. I should have mentioned earlier that at Cornwall, because it was a binational AOC, we actually had two separate plans, on the Canadian side with the Cornwall AOC, and then on the American side, because the processes and the problems were very different. You actually have two concurrent remedial action plans under way
The Bay of Quinte AOC is a little bit behind where the St. Lawrence is, but five of eleven impairments are under consideration for redesignation. It needs more science, more action, but the target is to complete those by 2017. Delisting would be another few years down the line, if possible.
The last thing I'd like to point to is another issue to recognize, namely, once you face delisting, what happens after that? There are continued pressures on the environment. There's a need for long-term monitoring and assessment in response to emerging issues. There is certainly a concern, and we hear it in Cornwall, that delisting will mean loss of funding and loss of public interest in this issue. There's a continued need for engagement and to develop a long-term sustainable framework for our collective efforts in these AOCs.
We have undertaken a number of measures, including facilitated workshops and community meetings, to assess priorities and the scope, goals, partners, and funding mechanisms for the future. From this, these ideas and these models can then be applied to other areas of concern.
Thank you very much.