1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 25
John Mills, Director General, Ontario Region, Environment Canada
Thank you, Frank, and good morning friends of the Great Lakes. You have been very patient in sitting for the past hour or so listening to federal officials talk at you. I would like to have a slight change of pace for a moment. For the next 20 seconds how about just standing in your place and shaking out some of the dunchness -- that's a Newfoundland term -- that you may be feeling in body. Everybody now is awake and I ask you to take your seats again. Thank you. Dunch is not a French term. It's a Newfoundland term.
Unlike many of you, I did not grow up along the shore of the Great Lakes but I have lived there for the past 35 years and, for the past 7 years, have been intimately involved in the programs for the restoration and clean up of this rather precious resource. If you allow me a moment of just a personal reflection, I am always amazed, continue to be amazed by the magnitude, by the vastness, and by the fragility of this international treasure. I also continue to be challenged and surprised by the issues that we have to face and continue to face but, more importantly, I'm always encouraged by the creativity of all of us that come together in our ability to be able to face those challenges. I face those challenges with a great deal optimism for the future.
This part of the presentation we are going to be talking about our binational activities, and Frank and I have the pleasure to share some of the successes of those binational activities with you today. In our presentation this morning we are going to briefly touch on some of the following binational activities -- the State of the Lake Ecosystem Conference, the International Atmospheric Deposition Network, the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement review, Lakewide Management Plans, the Four-Agency Agreement on the Upper Great Lake Connecting Channels, and the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan.
Firstly SOLEC. In order to report on the health of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem, a binational series of conferences referred as SOLEC -- State of the Lake Ecosystem Conference -- have been developed. These have been hosted by Environment Canada and U.S. EPA. So far we've had three of them, in 1994, 96, and 98. Assessing the health of something as large and as complex as the Great Lakes basin ecosystem is indeed a significant challenge. Developing a set of indicators would, however, enable all of the Great Lakes communities to work within a consistent framework to assess and monitor the changes and progress of the state of that ecosystem. Following the very successful state of the lake conference in Buffalo last year, we will be releasing very shortly the 1999 State of the Great Lakes report. It will be released in the next few days. You can obtain a copy of that if you would leave your name and address at the SOLEC display in the display area, or by visiting the SOLEC website.
The report describes the progress by which we selected a list of eighty proposed indicators from an initial of some 800. The report contains data on 19 of those 80 indicators. Examples of the indicators in the report include chemical contamination in fish tissue, wetland bird diversity and abundance, contamination in colonial nesting waterbirds, benthos diversity and abundance, phosphorus concentrations and loadings, and atmospheric deposition of toxic chemicals, amongst others.
Overall, that report concludes that there has been little change in the state of the Great Lakes since 1997; however, there are indications of some improvements. One of them is the contaminant levels in the herring gull eggs. This is one of our best long-term indicators of toxic chemical contamination, and that continues to decline, consistent with declines we've seen since the 1980s. Nutrient levels in all the lakes are at or below the target level set in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. However, levels in the western basin of Lake Erie continue to fluctuate widely, while those in the central and eastern basins slightly exceed expected concentrations.
Turning to habitat, overall habitat loss continues, and that is a challenge, although there are positive steps that have been taken to restore habitat. In Canada, for example, 2,500 hectares of wetland have been restored or acquired both between 1994 and 1999. A further 1,340 hectares are in the process of being restored. On the U.S. side a recent agreement will protect more than 75 miles of Michigan's ravine habitat and coastal wetlands, along with the restoration of 11,000 acres of wetlands in Wisconsin.
Invasion species continue to spread and establish themselves in the Great Lakes. The most recent finding of the round goby in Lake Ontario is but another warning of the need for continued effort and diligence in the face of these threats. On a positive side, it has been noted that the sea lamprey control program continues to show positive results in all of the lakes. But parts of the St. Marys River and Lake Huron continue to require special attention for lamprey control. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission along with its partners continue to research both chemical and non-chemical alternatives to control sea lamprey populations.
One of the best examples of binational cooperation is the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network, also known by the acronym IADN. For almost 10 years this network has collected data on the atmospheric delivery of toxic substances to the lakes. This data will be available on the Internet by the end of this year. The data set is now long enough for IADN scientist to begin estimate when chemicals will finally disappear from the air in the region. But some of those chemicals do not show much of a downward trend, especially those resulting from what has already been referred to long-range transport. IADN findings and predictions highlight the importance of continued additional scientific work to identify the remaining global sources of these compounds. A new direction for IADN is to begin to look at the impacts of cities on deposition to the lake. Preliminary results indicate that this contribution is significant. For example, the concentrations of PCBs in the air over Chicago is 7 times higher than over Lake Superior.
We must work through existing multilateral frameworks like the Great Lakes Toxics Management Strategy the CEC -- Commission for Environmental Cooperation -- and other UN efforts to reduce the emissions which are ultimately reaching the Great Lakes from beyond the basin.
Frank has already related some of the domestic accomplishments under the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy. However, I would like to give a brief mention to the overall progress of the strategy itself. We are pleased to report that we are on track for all of the challenges in the strategy. We have completed the reports in both countries on the challenges on alkyl-lead and pesticides, and we are making good progress on the other challenges. As you know and has been mentioned, long-range transport of contaminants is a significant route for loadings to the lakes. To address this issue, we have reached Agreement between U.S. EPA and Environment Canada to carry out an analysis of the contribution and significance of long-range transport of strategy substances from worldwide sources to the Great Lakes. This modelling work will build on the results of recent International Workshop of Long-range Transport of Contaminants to the Arctic, which was held in Bergen, Norway this past June.
Now it is my pleasure to hand the mike over to Frank to continue the presentation on our binational activities.