Cleaner beaches, better sewage treatment, an end to toxic chemical dumping -- what should be done to improve the Great Lakes in the next 10 years?
That's the question Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and Rick Findlay, water program director for Pollution Probe, will ask Hamiltonians in a public forum at City Hall this evening.
Miller, an independent official who reports directly to the legislature, says the two-hour, open-mike session on the future of the lakes will help him assess and comment on critical government decisions to be made in the next year or two.
In his 2005-2006 annual report, Miller said he worried the province was neglecting its obligations to protect and improve the Great Lakes.
With the International Joint Commission now reviewing the Canada-U.S. Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality -- signed in 1972 and last updated in 1987 -- and the Canada-Ontario Agreement due to expire in March, Miller said in an interview that he wanted to hear directly from people living and working around the lakes.
There's no shortage of issues. In addition to beaches and toxic chemicals, there's concern over invasive species such as zebra mussels, warnings that climate change will lower water levels and new concerns about parts of Lake Erie being starved of vital oxygen.
Miller, who will meet privately with organizations such as the Bay Area Restoration Council and Hamilton Port Authority, said, "The long list of problems is growing, so I felt I should go out to some of the cities and talk to the experts and general public, to hear about their concerns and ideas."
He called the Canada-U.S. agreement "profoundly important" to everyone living in the Great Lakes Basin, and said, "That sets the scene for the Canada-Ontario Agreement which expires in March, and assuming we get a new one, I will be reviewing that as part of my duties."
Teaming up with Miller is Pollution Probe's Findlay, who is pushing a new, binational vision for the lakes, a document he hopes will influence both the new Canada-U.S. and Canada-Ontario agreements.
The idea for such a vision sprouted at Pollution Probe's Managing Shared Waters Conference which drew more than 400 participants from 22 countries to Hamilton in 2002.
Findlay has since been meeting informally with groups on both sides of the border in a Great Lakes Futures Roundtable to draft the two-page statement that can be found at www.pollutionprobe.org/Reports/greatlakesvision.pdf.
Miller's most recent report (at www.eco.on.ca) alleges a number of shortcomings in the Canada-Ontario Agreement, including a lack of sufficient public consultation on projects it funds.