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Canada Renews Committment to Clean up Great Lakes

Sault Star

The governments of Canada and Ontario have renewed a decades-long commitment to clean up the Great Lakes and adjoining waterways such as the St. Mary's River.

The signing of the fifth Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA) since 1971 was announced this week.

The COA builds on past efforts to attack environmental problems identified through the decades: in the 1970s, phosphorus ? derived from detergent and agricultural runoff into Great Lakes water ? in the 80s exotic species and, more recently, global warming and its impact on the ecosystem.

A greater effort has been made in the latest five-year agreement to target climate change and its effects, said Environment Canada's regional director general for Ontario.

"While we have some general ideas about climate change, we need to have more research to understand the specifics, like what it would mean for the St. Mary's River," said John Mills from Toronto.

While there are success stories ? since the 1994 COA, releases of persistent toxic substances such as mercury have been reduced by more than 70 per cent since 1988 ? the St. Mary's River remains one of the original 43 areas of concern (AOCs) identified three decades ago.

There are now 16 AOCs left, and the goal is to reduce that number by two within the next five years. "Our intention, because those are the more degraded areas of the lakes, is to focus on cleaning those up," Mills said.

The St. Mary's, adjoining lakes Huron and Superior, also remains a hot spot for the sea lamprey, harbouring more than the rest of the Great Lakes and tributaries combined.

The sea lamprey is only one of about 160 non-native species Mills estimates are currently in the Great Lakes basin.

"A full one-third of those have been introduced in the past 30 years.

"The trend of introductions is increasing, and when you think about biological integrity, that becomes a major, major concern."

Environment Canada expects to release a remedial action plan for the St. Mary's in September.

Other new priorities are to increase monitoring throughout the Great Lakes and include more stakeholders outside the provincial and federal governments, such as municipalities, First Nations and industry.

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