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Water Today Title October 30, 2020

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Great Lakes


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By Michelle Moore
Last week the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna announced $8.95 million in funding over four years to support projects that protect The Great Lakes Basin.

The Great Lakes are one of the world's largest sources of fresh water and harbour 4000 plant and animal species along the Canada - U.S. border. One in four Canadians and one in ten Americans rely on this source for their drinking water.

This federal funding is part of the Government of Canada's and the United State's 2016 goal to reduce the amount of phosphorous going into Lake Erie by 40%.

A similar partnership to address the over abundance of phosphorous in 1972 called the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement succeeded in lowering levels over the 1970's and 1980's but levels increased again throughout the 1990's.

The United States reaffirmed their commitment when President Trump's efforts to slice the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Budget were thwarted by both Democrats and Republicans in July 2017.

The Great Lakes Protection Initiative supports 36 local on-the-ground projects that work to prevent toxic and nuisance algae, increase public awareness, work with Indigenous communities and prevent the release of harmful chemicals into the Great Lakes.

McKenna said "the Government of Canada is proud to support these 36 projects that help to ensure a clean and healthy source of drinking water for Canadians and restore and protect the health of ecosystems for the many species of plants and animals relying on the Great Lakes."

One of the biggest issues is the intake of large quantities of phosphorous which can cause potentially toxic harmful algae blooms (HABs) to grow. HABs are caused by human changes in land use, the widespread use of agricultural fertilizers and inadequately treated sewage.

HABs can manifest themselves as thick green slime on the surface of the water. One of the worst cases of HABs was in Toledo, Ohio when 500 000 residents were advised not to drink the water due to the water treatment plant being unable to adequately treat the toxin-contaminated water.

One of the funding recipients is Toronto based charity Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) Canada. During the announcement, which took place on Lake Erie shores, McKenna said "ALUS Canada is doing really important work. We know that we need to be working with farmers when it comes to water quality, so it's a very important partnership."

ALUS works throughout the country and currently has projects in 21 communities across 18 500 acres and 5 provinces. ALUS will use their $600 000 over 3 years to restore 75 acres of wetlands and other natural assets that limit nutrient runoff into streams leading into Lake Erie, the shallowest of The Great Lakes.

Director of Strategic Initiatives Lara Ellis will be working on a community model meaning that ALUS will develop working relationships with environmental groups, conservation authorities, or municipalities.

Ellis said ALUS will be working on "wetland restoration, bicarian buffers, tree planting ... in south western ontario we do a lot of native tall grass prairie restoration, so of course we are sequestering carbon, improving water quality, providing wildlife habitat."

Of the $600 000 received, half will be distributed to one of 3 communities partnered with ALUS; Norfolk, Chatham-Kent or Middlesex whose watersheds drain into Lake Erie. ALUS will look at the proposals and determine which plan would have the biggest impact in phosphorous reduction.

With regards to climate change, she said "we need not only to be better managing water for flood mitigation but drought mitigation as well. So keeping the water on the land through these severe droughts we've been having is increasingly important so the need for restoring wetlands is going to be more important because of that change in weather patterns as well."

The other $300 000 will be invested in a research project headed by Dr. Wanhong Yang at the University of Guelph who has pioneered a tool known as the Integrated Modelling for Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices.

Ellis said that "will give us a better a quantification of the ecosystem services provided by our project. So, a better understanding of what's happening with the hydrological systems and also where we will get the best results for our resources in the future."

She explained that this type of modelling will allow ALUS committees to make more informed decisions when planning project in the future. A

LUS has a similar pilot project in the works in Edmonton, Alberta that is partially funded by Natural Resources Canada's Adaptation Funds and Alberta's Watershed Restoration and Resiliency Program.

The project will be headed by Dr. Myriam Webber with InnoTech Alberta. Ellis said "the idea for both pilots is to compare the cost of natural infrastructure with built infrastructure. We know that its cheaper, we know that we can rely on natural infrastructure to improve water quality, to mitigate flood and drought."

Ellis said the missing piece is having the figures to prove it as well as creating a sustainable cash flow. Another complication is where there are private lands that affect nearby public lands, and if land is privately owned it may be difficult to obtain funds to restore their natural infrastructure.

These pilot projects, the first of their kind in Canada have come at an opportune time as the federal government is seeking to make big investments in infrastructure across the country.

Ellis said "we are very keen to make the case that those funds should be flowing to natural infrastructure and creating the sort of programs that facilitate that."


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