Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on December 19, 2012 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Do You Want More Drinkable, Swimmable and Fishable Great Lakes?

Dr. Anastasia Lintner

On Monday, the Ontario government finalized its plan — the Great Lakes Strategy — to keep your water drinkable, swimmable and fishable. We welcome this long awaited blueprint for action, knowing how important the Great Lakes are to Ontario’s economy and the health of Ontarians. Now, we need to transform the plan into action.

What Are The Great Lakes?
A source of drinking water for more than 80 per cent of Ontarians;

Home to 4,000 types of plants, animals and fish;
A place to play, with over 10,000 kilometres of shoreline.

The Great Lakes also take a LONG time to replenish. Our 2006 Great Lakes Sewage Report Card noted that it takes 100 years for the Great Lakes to completely flush out all the pollutants and contaminants in its system.

But the Great Lakes are under a lot of stress. Researchers at the University of Michigan on Monday released a “stress index” to show where action is desperately needed. Not surprisingly, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are experiencing high levels of stress attributed to human impacts and development.

That’s why it’s so important to see Ontario release its Great Lakes Strategy now. The strategy explains where we need to go in order to lessen the stress on this valuable resource, naming five goals, guiding principles and a series of future actions.

The goals
Engaging and empowering communities;
Protecting water for human and ecological health;
Improving wetlands, beaches and coastal habitats;
Enhancing understanding and adaptation;
Ensuring environmentally sustainable economic opportunities and innovation.

The guiding principles
Ecosystem approach
Precautionary approach
Adaptive management
Collaboration and engagement
Recognition of First Nations and Métis communities

Ecojustice, collaborating with the Great Lakes Protection Act Alliance, submitted five priorities to the Ontario government and is pleased that the strategy addresses these priorities. We are eager to continued working with the government and our partners to shape these goals, principles and actions in the coming months and years. But whether these plans make the Great Lakes more drinkable, swimmable and fishable also requires the government to put its strategy into practice.

Ontario must invest in this strategy by prioritizing its actions, setting measurable targets and milestones for assessing progress and ensuring sufficient funding. Ontario also needs to work with the federal government on their ongoing renegotiation of the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Ecosystem. And, Ontario needs to give the strategy the force of law by enacting a Great Lakes Protection Act.

The Great Lakes are too important to Ontario to delay action any longer.

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