Thunder Bay

Raw sewage, chemicals and water quality still big concerns for Great Lakes

A group charged with protecting the Great Lakes says considerable progress has been made in the past five years on improving water quality, but there's a lot more work to do.

Thunder Bay, Peninsula Harbour remain 'areas of concern'

Pebbly Beach in Marathon, Ont. is close to an area of concern defined in the International Joint Commission's report on Great Lakes Water Quality. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

A group charged with protecting the Great Lakes says considerable progress has been made in the past five years on improving water quality, but there's a lot more work to do.

The International Joint Commission (IJC) released its first assessment of progress to governments on both sides of the Canada - U.S. border. The report notes that progress has been made in cleaning up so-called areas of concern, as well as reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie. Phosphorus is a major component of algae blooms.

"[It's] really about looking at the goals the agreement sets for drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters," said Sally Cole-Misch, a public affairs officer with the IJC.

One of the major issues affecting all of the Great Lakes is sewage treatment.

"We've had some kind of sewage treatment programs for over a hundred years, and yet, somehow, we're still seeing [these problems] in extreme storm events," said Cole-Misch. "We're obviously seeing with climate change, we're seeing these huge combined sewer overflow problems, and that's happening throughout the basin."

Long-term, toxic chemicals

Another challenge is the elimination of toxic chemicals into the Great Lakes basin that stick around for years. The IJC hoped to identify and then control the chemicals that can be put into the water.

"Really, it's an area that's been disappointingly slow in the past three years. They've only identified eight chemicals."

"We have not developed any binational management strategies for those chemicals we have identified."

Areas of specific concern in northwestern Ontario include Thunder Bay harbour, Nipigon Bay, Jackfish Bay and Peninsula Harbour in Marathon, Ont.

"They have accelerated the cleanup of several areas of concern ... There were originally 42 areas of concern around the Great Lakes, where we've had significant pollution issues."

Nipigon Bay could be de-listed shortly, while Jackfish Bay is listed as an area of recovery. The other remaining areas, Thunder Bay harbour and Peninsula Harbour remain areas of concern.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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