The Ontario and federal governments have signed the latest (8th)
version of the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water
Quality and Ecosystem Health (2014 COA). The purpose of this agreement is to
implement Canada's commitments to protect the Great Lakes made
in partnership with the United States under the Canada-United
States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). This binational agreement was first
entered into in 1978; the latest version came into force February
The 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement brought
the U.S. and Canadian governments together on these issues for the
first time. Since then, the COA between Ontario and the federal
government has been the key mechanism for Canada making good on its
Arguably, these agreements have had some positive effect on the
Lakes, e.g., a reduction in certain toxic chemicals like mercury. But what is the latest focus, and how
healthy are the lakes based on identifiable bench marks? That is unclear. The federal government says:
"The current trend for landscapes and natural processes that
influence the Great Lakes is improving." But as to actual
water quality and fish, "The current trend for water quality
and aquatic life that depend on the Great Lakes is
Under the 1987 amendment to the GLWQA, 17 Canadian "Areas
of Concern" were identified—areas where environmental
quality was considered to be significantly degraded—with the
goal of delisting these areas after restoration of environmental
quality. The 2010 progress report disclosed that only 3
Areas of Concern had been delisted in 20+ years; Collingwood
Harbour (1994), Severn Sound (2003) and Wheatley Harbour (2010).
The current agreement (2014) prioritizes action to delist five
other areas: Nipigon Bay, Peninsula Harbour, Niagara River, Bay of
Quinte, and St. Lawrence River (Cornwall). For other areas like
Toronto and Hamilton Harbour, the plan aims to "reduce
microbial and other contaminants and excessive nutrients from
municipal sewage plants, combined sewer outflows, urban stormwater
and industrial wastewater," although specific bench marks are
The previous version of this COA (signed in 2007) expired over
two years ago on June 24, 2012. The current agreement does appear
to be more ambitious than its predecessory. The 2007 COA identified
four areas of focus: Harmful Pollutants, Areas of Concern, Lake
& Basin Sustainability, and Coordination of Monitoring,
Research and Information. The 2014 COA identifies 14 areas of focus
or "Annexes", including understanding Climate Change
Impacts, Invasive Species and Promoting Innovation by, for example,
"working with companies to commercialize  new technologies
in the water sector/market."
The term of this COA is from December 18, 2014 until December
17, 2019. Let's hope it will produce some real improvements in
Great Lake water quality.
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