A Peek at the Canadian Plan to Clean Up Lake Erie
The governments of Canada and Ontario have just about finalized their Action Plan for Lake Erie—something our sister organization Freshwater Future Canada has said for years is needed to restore the health of Lake Erie and address toxic algal blooms.
Is it exactly what we think is needed? No. But let’s start with the good.
The new plan, which will be finalized next month, does three smart and very important things:
- It increases transparency in government’s efforts to improve water quality—always a good thing.
- It puts more money towards research and monitoring, helping to effectively target limited resources to solutions in areas with the highest levels of pollution.
- It commits Canada to joining the U.S. federal and state agencies in reporting on progress (or lack thereof) so that we can track how everyone is doing at meeting the plan’s goals.
Now, what it doesn’t do.
The plan doesn’t rise to the urgency of the agricultural challenges we are trying to address. The plan relies on programs that ask farmers to voluntarily reduce pollution. This will definitely not be enough to reduce pollution to a point that lets the lake recover. Instead, we need a smart approach that combines new legislation, enforcement, and education.
Ontarians are already suffering from beach closures and drinking water shutoffs caused by algal blooms. We know that we need agriculture to change its practices, but there are essentially no incentives in this plan to help farmers make this transition on their lands.
Another shortcoming is the plan’s weak approach to protecting wetlands. We know that protecting existing wetlands is a cost-effective way of capturing polluted runoff before it gets into the lake, and yet the plan doesn’t commit to halting wetland loss until 2025.
Freshwater Future Canada worked hard to get us this far. For the first time, we nearly have a series of plans that bring Canada and the US together to take responsibility for the pollution that runs off the land into Lake Erie—a lake that supplies drinking water to over 11 million people.
It’s a start, but we’re nowhere near done. In the year ahead, we will continue to advocate for the health and safety of Ontario families and do everything we can to encourage the government to develop smart programs and incentives that protect Lake Erie.