Prime Minister Paul Martin announced a new plan to help win back the Great Lakes this weekend, pledging $1-billion over ten years. According to the Liberal Party's announcement, the National Ecosystem Initiative and Revitalization Plan ("the Plan") will help clean up toxic hotspots and protect the lakes against emerging threats such as pharmaceuticals and fire retardants.
The Plan appears to reflect the concerns that scientists, activists, and waterfront residents have been talking about in recent years. It promises $500-million to clean up degraded and threatened areas, including the notorious Hamilton Harbour and the Montreal Technoparc.
Groups such as Environment Hamilton, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper have raised concerns about coal tar deposits, contaminated birds, and sewage pollution in Hamilton for years. Similarly, the PCBs leaking into the St. Lawrence River from the Montreal Technoparc site became the subject of an international investigation following a brief created by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and other NGOs.
The Plan also pledges $100-million to address growing threats such as invasive species, pharmaceuticals, and PBDEs. These threats are not currently addressed through Great Lakes water quality agreements, nor do most experts believe they are adequately understood. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper recommended the creation of a new program to respond to these concerns in our recent submission to the International Joint Commission.
Initiatives to help win back the Great Lakes will come at a very important time. Everywhere there are signs that the Great Lakes are in jeopardy: Sewage spills closed beaches around the lakes every single day; Canada and the United States both issued consumption advisories in response to contaminated wild fish. The National Ecosystem Initiative and Revitalization Plan is the first proposal of 2006 designed to address Canada's freshwater woes. Let's hope it's not the last.
Hamilton Spectator: Liberals pledge $30 million for cleanup in harbour
Toronto Star: Liberals pledge $1B for lakes clean-up
Winnipeg Free Press: Manitoba may get $120M for lake
CBC Online: Martin announces $1-billion water cleanup