Canada’s Areas of Concern have been languishing for two decades. In part, this is because the easy solutions have been implemented. It’s time that we start doing the heavy lifting. Canada is in a period of economic prosperity. We have the means today to invest significantly in cleaning up some of the worst sites of toxic pollution in the country. And the truth of the matter is, the longer we let them sit, the worse the problems get, and the more expensive the solutions will be in the future. Knowing this, it is time that Canada step forward and take stronger action on the Areas of Concern.
Support for the Great Lakes is intense. Currently, the U.S. Congress is considering tripling their funding toward Areas of Concern as part of a $20 billion bill to clean up the Great Lakes.
In Ontario, public opinion research indicates that water quality and toxics are leading concerns, with 78% of Ontarians favouring federal government spending of $2 billion per year for 10 years to clean up the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
Cleaning up all of the Areas of Concern is a long-term effort. We can make significant progress today. The current budget needs to restore these toxic hotspots back to health are:
- $1.5 billion over five years to upgrade wastewater infrastructure in Ontario’s AOCs and Quebec’s zones d’intervention prioritaire (ZIPs). This should be matched by provincial contributions to achieve the $3.0 billion necessary to clean up these sites, as estimated by Environment Canada ($2.4 billion for the AOCs) and the Green Budget Coalition ($0.6 billion for the ZIPs).
- $5.2 billion over ten years to create a Great Lakes Clean Water Infrastructure fund. This funding addresses one-third of the current infrastructure deficit, as identified by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal. The remaining two-thirds should be funded by provincial and municipal governments.
- $300 million over two years to develop comprehensive and coordinated plans to clean up contaminated sediments. This should be followed up with significant funding to begin the actual clean up effort, estimated to cost between $0.75 billion and $2 billion.Past investments in cleaning up AOCs has yielded healthier ecosystems and healthier communities.
We must act today, because every day we wait, the problem in the Great Lakes get worse, and the solutions more costly.
Benefits of Past Investment
The social, economic and cultural health of our communities depends upon a vibrant ecosystem. When we drink contaminated water, our bodies become sick. Just the same, when our communities become a haven for sediment contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and heavy metals, our social organs begin to shut down. Local economies slacken, cultural life degrades, and social problems arise.
The benefits of investments in cleaning up Canada’s AOCs are numerous: it revitalizes local economies; builds strong social networks, and encourages a spirit of success. For example:
- In Nipigon Bay, investment in restoration projects created 130 person years of direct employment. It created an opportunity for $1.2 million in new business investments in recreational facilities, such as marinas and hotels. In a community of 3,700, this created 19 long-term jobs, and expected projects will result in 150 more long-term jobs.
- In Hamilton Harbour, improvements in the quality of the harbour were obvious and rapid after the Skyway wastewater treatment plant was upgraded.
- A small government investment can grow very quickly to other stakeholders. When Environment Canada invested $6.1 million in a project to reduce agricultural non-point source pollution (about one-quarter of the total cost), partners in rural communities stepped forward and contributed the remainder. And this does not reflect the volunteer labour force who undertook the work.
- Residents of Hamilton have long have limited access to their harbour-front and this has contributed to a feeling of displacement. Since 1990, public access to the shoreline has increased from a dismal 5 per cent, to 25 per cent in 2005. Hamiltonians are reconnecting with their water and becoming driving force in leaning it up.
- After twenty years, Collingwood Harbour and Severn Sound have been delisted and Spanish Harbour is now declared in recovery. In Collingwood Harbour phosphorous releases were reduced and contaminated sediments removed. A key component was rehabilitating habitat and educating the public on pollution prevention. Similarly, Severn Sound faced problems from phosphorous discharges which were overcome by upgrading public and private sewage systems.
- Remedial actions in Spanish Harbour are complete, and the harbour is being monitored as the ecosystem recovers to a point where problems are overcome. Major achievements have included substantial investment in pollution controls by Domtar Inc-Eddy Specialty Papers, environmental improvements at the INCO and Falconbridge plants upstream at Sudbury, upgrading of the municipal sewage treatment plant, and reintroduction of muskellunge.
Progress has also been seen in many of the remaining AOCs. In many sites, habitat is being restored while industrial and sewage discharges are decreased and contaminated sediment are removed. However, more work needs to be done. Canada is a world leader in providing health care for its citizens – now we can do the same for the environment.