Ontario environmental organizations today handed all parties their vision of the three key elements that should be included in Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act (GLPA).
The Liberals promised a Great Lakes Protection Act in the Throne Speech and both opposition parties pledged to protect water quality in their platforms. First reading of the new act is expected this spring.
The groups are urging that the Great Lakes Protection Act:
engage citizens and support vibrant waterfront communities and economies;
protect and restore Great Lakes’ biodiversity;
and improve water quality and quantity.
The groups agreed that the Great Lakes Protection Act needs to connect people with their lakes by improving the health of natural areas, shorelines and beaches, reducing sources of pollution from air and land, attacking destructive invasive species, and by using Ontario’s high tech innovations, regulations, and natural services (like wetlands) to reduce the impacts of cities on water quality and quantity.
“The Great Lakes provide drinking water to four out of five Ontarians,” says Derek Stack, Executive Director at Great Lakes United. “It’s time to connect – in law – the basic necessity of clean water with how we treat our Lakes’ ecosystem. It’s time to clean up our act.”
On some Great Lakes people have begun swimming at beaches again after years of fear of contaminated water. “These places, like Blue Flag beaches on Toronto’s waterfront, serve as reminders that local investments in sewage treatment facilities can improve people’s quality of life,” says Claire Malcolmson, Water Programs Manager at Environmental Defence. “We want this experience to spread to other communities in the Great Lakes basin.”
“If the Great Lakes Protection Act helps municipal governments pay for needed water and sewer infrastructure investments, people can enjoy improvements to their waterfronts and water quality quite quickly,” says Anastasia Lintner, Staff Lawyer at Ecojustice.
“Despite their values, Ontario’s wetlands continue to be lost at an alarming rate,” says Mark Gloutney, Director of Regional Operations – Eastern Region Ducks Unlimited Canada. “The protection of wetlands in the Great Lakes Basin and coast is critical to maintaining the ecological integrity and biodiversity of the Great Lakes.”
“Wetlands are needed by 80 per cent of Great Lakes fish at some point in their life cycle for spawning and or nursery habitat. But 70 per cent of Great Lakes coastal wetlands have been lost due to development and or pollution. We need to put in place new policies to protect what wetlands we have left,” says Mary Muter, Chair, Great Lakes Section, Sierra Club Ontario.
Stronger action on the Great Lakes has been expected for some time. Evidence has been mounting that the Great Lakes are reaching a tipping point, and the province is aware of this. In 2009, the province released a discussion paper on the Great Lakes and toured the province seeking input from stakeholders.
“Our hope for the Great Lakes Protection Act is that it will better align the work of various Ministries, municipalities, stewards and agencies that work on the Great Lakes. Many different decisions are made every day that affect the health of the Great Lakes and we hope this new Act helps to better allocate public resources for the benefit of the Great Lakes,” said Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director and Counsel to Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The environmentalists’ Statement of Expectations and legislative drafting notes were written by Canadian Environmental Law Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Great Lakes United, and the Sierra Club Ontario Chapter, with input from Conservation Ontario and World Wildlife Fund. Already the documents have the support of 16 other groups.