MARK MATTSON ON BEHALF OF LAKE ONTARIO WATERKEEPER
TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON REGULATIONS AND PRIVATE BILLS
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2013
RE: Bill 6, Great Lakes Protection Act, 2013
My name is Mark Mattson. I have been an environmental lawyer for the past 20 years in Toronto. I am President and Waterkeeper for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a charity working for the protection and restoration of a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Lake Ontario.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper’s programs bring together law, science, culture, and digital media in order to connect and empower people to restore polluted places, protect human health, and promote thriving natural spaces.
Through our affiliation with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s global Waterkeeper Alliance, our work here at home helps to ensure waterways worldwide are protected for all people.
I am here today to share 3 reasons why Lake Ontario Waterkeeper supports Bill 6, The Great Lakes Protection Act:
- The Great Lakes need all the help they can get.
- The Act empowers Ontario to do more for the Great Lakes.
- The Act creates an opportunity for Ontario to show leadership on Great Lakes issues.
Let me explain.
First, the Great Lakes need all the help they can get. At Waterkeeper, we measure the health of a watershed by asking four questions: Is the water clean enough to touch? Is the water clean enough to drink? Are the fish clean enough to eat? Are there healthy and thriving fish and wildlife populations? That’s our “swim, drink, fish formula”.
For the last 5 years, my organization has been collecting information that answers these questions. And the results are not good.
We created the Waterkeeper Swim Guide to track beach closures. In 2011, there were 6,189 beach advisories on Great Lakes beaches. This year, we counted 3,024 beach advisories on Lake Ontario alone. All that recreational water pollution takes a serious environmental, cultural, and economic toll.
One of the biggest threats to the Great Lakes is sewage and stormwater pollution, and that’s one issue we hope that the province will address promptly once this legislation is passed. Municipalities won’t resolve these infrastructure problems on their own. It is one of two areas where provincial leadership could lead to a swift and dramatic improvement in Great Lakes water quality.
Last year, we created the Waterkeeper Drink Guide. This is a collaboration with the researchers at the Water Chronicles that tracks drinking water advisories across Canada.
Most people associated drinking water problems with isolated communities. They certainly don’t think it is a Great Lakes issue. That’s not the case. This year, for example, 7 different communities in the Lake Ontario watershed couldn’t safely drink the water in their own homes. The pollution that contaminates their wells is often the same pollution that contaminates our creeks, rivers, and the lake itself.
On the Great Lakes, fish harvests are expected to decline by another 25% of the next 25 years. Lake Ontario’s fisheries collapsed in the last century from over-fishing and industrialization. Up to 70% of our coastal wetlands have been filled in.
These issues are particularly important in light of the federal government’s recent decision to scale back on fish and fish habitat protection (no pun intended). Without the province’s leadership, no government body will stand up for Great Lakes fish.
We are hoping that a renewed commitment to the Great Lakes will filter through to Ontario’s energy facilities. Energy takes an enormous toll on fish and fish habitat, particularly dams and nuclear power plants. We are optimistic that the Great Lakes Protection Act will help Ontario adopt a more precautionary approach to energy planning. This would benefit our lakes greatly.
2. EMPOWERING ONTARIO
Second, the Act is basically an enabling law. It empowers Ontario to do more to ensure the Great Lakes becomes swimmable, drinkable, fishable again. We hope that it will influence decision-making across all aspects of government, just as the Great Lakes influence every part of our daily lives.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is big on citizen empowerment and public engagement. We think access to the lakes, use of the lakes, appreciation for the lakes, and an educated public are crucial for the long-term health of the waterway. To the extent that his legislation can help to break down barriers between public and the government and between internal government departments, we think it is a good thing.
3. LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITY
Third, the legislation gives Ontario an opportunity to show leadership. This Province has jurisdiction over more Great Lakes shoreline than any other government. As Ontario goes, so goes the future of the entire Great Lakes watershed.
If the Great Lakes are to be healthy, then this province must show leadership.
The Great Lakes Protection Act took more than a year to go from proposal to second reading. I appreciate that the committee now appears to be acting swiftly and hope that this legislation moves forward without unnecessary delay.
Water is not a partisan issue. Every person of every political stripe requires water to survive. Thank you for allowing me to speak here today.