Ecojustice Case – Nature Case Status: Victory

Protecting the Great Lakes

Pierre SadikLawyer
Ecojustice scientist Liat PodolskyLiat PodolskyScientist
Photo by Brad Wieland via iStock

The Great Lakes Basin is one of the greatest freshwater ecosystems on Earth.

Today, three of Ontario’s four Great Lakes are in a state of decline. Climate change is leading to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which wash more pollutants into our waterways and lakes. Pollution, climate change, and agricultural, industrial and residential development have destroyed almost ¾ of southern Ontario’s historic wetlands. These wetlands provide habitat for species, filter our drinking water, and protect communities from floods. Pollutants from consumer products, including microplastics or microbeads, are being dumped into the water. Once in the water, microbeads are ingested by wildlife, move up the food chain, and act as sponges for contaminants such as DDT, PCBs and flame retardants.

The cumulative effects of these sources of pollution include increased the frequency and intensity of blue-green algal blooms, fish kills, and beach closures. People are increasingly unable to swim in, fish or drink from the waters that are fundamental to the life of so many Ontario communities.

Protection for the Great Lakes Basin was spread across several provincial ministries under various laws and Ontario’s existing policies and programs were falling short. That is why Ecojustice urged the Government of Ontario to introduce the Great Lakes Protection Act (GLPA).

The Act passed in October 2015. It will require the Ontario government to set science-based targets and develop action plans to address the most severe threats to the Great Lakes, such as habitat loss, the influx of invasive species, and mounting toxic pollutants.

Why was Ecojustice involved?

The waters of the Great Lakes are a valuable public resource and every decision that will affect the Great Lakes Basin must prioritize safeguarding it. Since 2012, Ecojustice has supported legislation that would better protect the Great Lakes Basin.

What does this win mean?

The Great Lake Protection Act provides new tools to address environmental stresses that threaten to the Great Lakes Basin. It gives citizens and groups the ability to track and measure efforts to improve the Great Lakes’ health and empowers Ontarians to hold the responsible authorities accountable. The Act will also empower local groups to develop solutions to protect their community’s water. An action plan will be mandatory for all targets, and the action plans themselves will contain activities that must be undertaken, specifying mandatory actions to protect regions of the Great Lakes.

The Act also establishes the Great Lakes Guardians Council, a collaborative forum for provincial ministers to discuss priorities, financial measures, and share information. The Environment Minister will convene one or more meetings of the Council each year for the purpose of focusing on one of the Great Lakes watersheds, or on a particular geographic area of the Great Lakes Basin.

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