Freshwater Future Canada Blog

Press Release: Launch of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Collaborative Strategy

Panel of Experts to Investigate Protection of the
Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River

Stakeholder-Led Collaborative Strategy receives federal funding

Toronto, ON, Friday, October 26, 2018 – Today, an independent panel with experts from across the Canadian portion of the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River held its first meeting, launching an 18-month process to develop recommendations for all governments to safeguard Canada’s greatest reserve of freshwater and the St. Lawrence River estuary.

The Expert Panel will be co-chaired by two former provincial environmental commissioners of Ontario and Quebec respectively, Mr. Gord Miller and M. Jean Cinq-Mars. The independent panel will be advised by Indigenous organisations, stakeholders representing a cross section of industrial, agricultural, maritime, municipal, recreational, fishery and environmental interests, and other academic and scientific experts.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is providing $400,000 to fund the initiative. The outcome of the process will be a Collaborative Strategy for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, proposing new and innovative approaches to protection efforts and better alignment of government science, programs and investments. The recommendations will be submitted to the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and shared with provincial counterparts, indigenous and municipal leaders, and the broader community in the Region.

The Collaborative Strategy, which has been championed and organized by the Council of the Great Lakes Region, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities InitiativeFreshwater Future CanadaStrategies Saint Laurent and Great Lakes Fishery Commission, will focus on four key challenges:

  1. Climate Change
  2. Toxics and other harmful pollutants
  3. Nutrients
  4. Beaches and bacteriological contaminants

The Strategy will proceed in two phases, beginning first with the Great Lakes and then concluding with the St. Lawrence River.

For more information on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Collaborative, including a full list of Expert Panel members and Issue Table co-chairs, please go to:


“Protecting our water, air and nature is a priority for our government. Millions of people depend on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence to sustain the economy, their livelihoods, their health and their wellbeing. This work is essential to protect the environment and grow the economy, and ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our kids and grandkids.”
The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“The Great Lakes, though grand in scale, are sensitive inland aquatic ecosystems. We will work with all those who depend on the lakes to find ways to better care for them.”
Gord Miller, Expert Panel Co-chair

“The St. Lawrence is part of the heritage and fabric of Quebec society. By finding solutions to the most pressing threats to this vital artery we will be better prepared for the future.”
Jean Cinq-Mars, Expert Panel Co-chair

“We hope many voices around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence regions will join this effort to identify restoration challenges and needs, increase investment, and strengthen protection of the inland waters on which so many of us, and so many species, depend.”
Bob Lambe, Executive Secretary of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

“The Great Lakes Regional Collaborative and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the United States has shown what can be achieved when all levels of government work alongside industry, academia and the nonprofit sector to advance common environmental goals in the Great Lakes by leveraging programs and investments. It’s time Canadian governments and stakeholders come together like never before to find new ways of tackling a range of complex issues, especially the impacts of unabated climate change.”
Mark Fisher, CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region

“The Mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative are pleased to be part of this Collaboration. We look forward to discussing new innovative approaches to protect these vital freshwater treasures, now and in the future.”
John Dickert, President and CEO, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

“This initiative presents a unique opportunity to mobilize diverse expertise to protect and restore the health of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. It holds great potential for new partnerships among governments, environmental organizations and business and industry, and for increased investments to address the increasingly complex challenges we are facing across the region.”
Tony Maas, Manager of Strategy, Freshwater Future Canada

“The Collaborative will allow us to establish priorities to address transboundary challenges, to propose new initiatives that build on existing measures, as well as to identify additional financial resources to support essential programs like the Areas of Prime Concern (ZIP) Program along the St. Lawrence.”
Jacques Durocher, President, Stratégies Saint-Laurent

Media contact:

Nicola Crawhall, GLSL Collaborative Strategy Secretariat
Tel: 416-407-5880
Email: [email protected]com

International Tour Learns About US Water Governance

Delegates from 17 countries spent three weeks traveling around the United States last month, gaining an understanding of how the U.S. system of governance addresses  water resources management. The tour was part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program –  and our Manager of Strategy, Tony Maas, was invited to participate. Tony joined 17 delegates from around the world in visits to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Seattle and Jacksonville.

The professional exchange program for current and emerging foreign leaders involved field trips, site tours, and meetings with experts working on water resources management.  The group visited the Elwha River near Port Angeles, WA, where two large dams have been removed, restoring  not only salmon habitat but also enhancing the values of local Indigenous peoples.  A tour of the rural Black River watershed  near Cleveland, OH highlighted smaller scale creek restoration projects in an agricultural landscape.  Engagement with various US experts from various levels of government and non-profit organizations provided  attendees a chance to learn first hand about the benefits of protecting and restoring freshwater ecosystems.

In between the scheduled itinerary stops and over meals and social outings, the 18 attendees shared stories and experiences from their home countries, learning from successes and challenges, and building lasting relationships and sparking collaborations that will  impact their work for years to come.

Maas’ key observation from the trip was  that so many projects and initiatives discussed on the tour connect back in some way to the U.S. Clean Water Act, and reflected on the lack of similar over-arching federal water legislation in Canada. “The Clean Water Act in the U.S. is an example of a law that had stood the test of time and drives real impact on the ground and in the water” said Maas. “It can serve as a model for Canada as we confront growing challenges related to climate change and pollution of rivers and lakes, and as we work toward building a restoration-based economy.”  

Nuclear Waste and the Great Lakes

It may be a surprise to learn that spent nuclear fuel rods can be found near the shores of the Great Lakes. Without the existence of a waste depository – a place to safely store spent rods – nuclear waste is stacking up in vulnerable locations.

What do we do with the waste? The only solution that has been considered is a central location for the waste to be buried, yet finding that location has been near impossible due to local and state or provincial opposition.

With widespread nuclear waste – the province of Ontario alone has 52,000 tons of nuclear waste – transporting all the existing waste to a central repository creates potential hazards from accidents and could take up to 50 years. If a central repository can’t be built and storing rods on the shores is not safe, it is imperative that the industry develop alternative and safe options.

On top of the transportation and location issues, the proposed locations for repository sites are not safe either. In Ontario both proposed sites are lakeshore communities.

Nuclear energy will never be a sustainable option if waste solutions don’t exist. Perhaps the glimmer of hope in this news is that there has never been a better time to invest and increase our commitment and use of renewable energy sources.

The Detroit Free Press released an extensive article, outlining this issue that goes into more detail. Read it here. 

Keeping Flint at the Forefront of our Consciousness

by Latia Leonard


Nearly three weeks ago, I like millions all over the world, watched as some of the world’s biggest stars paid tribute to Aretha Franklin during her televised funeral service. One dignitary after another gave their fondest memories of Aretha, some of which included their final conversations with her. One of those speakers included retired Michigan 36th District Judge and Detroit native Greg Mathis. During his speech, he recalled his final conversation with Franklin concerning the Flint water crisis. Mathis said at the time they spoke, the State of Michigan had just announced it was discontinuing its bottled water distribution to residents. He expressed Aretha’s anger at the decision, then told the crowd and the world watching through TV that she wanted him to go to Flint and “Sock it to em!” 

Mathis, a community activist in his own right, took the opportunity to remind the world that Flint still isn’t quite fixed. With a star studded audience, consisting of policy makers, former presidents, and decision makers who wield the power and influence to make a change, it only made complete sense to bring Flint to a national stage. Famed actress Whoopi Goldberg on the season opener on the ABC televised talk show ‘The View’ reiterated Mathis’s message, saying “We need more water for Flint, we got to find a way to get that back going”.

Wait there’s more. Just recently on the nationally televised ‘Miss America’ pageant, Miss Michigan’s very own Emily Sioma courageously highlighted the city’s ongoing water struggles during her opening speech. “From the state with 84 percent of the U.S. freshwater but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan Emily Sioma,”she said. Even more recently, film producer and Flint native Michael Moore premiered his highly anticipated documentary ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’. This documentary covers in part, the Flint Water Crisis and how he believes it happened, and those responsible.

In each of these instances, powerful faces from different corners of the entertainment industry have used their platforms to do one thing in common, lift Flint back into the front of everyone’s conscious. That’s right… if the progress everyone wants to see is really going to happen we need to use our collective platforms to ensure that Flint’s recovery is still a priority both internally and externally. Keeping Flint not only in the forefront of our conscious, but also our hearts, in leading this recovery with compassion. Celebrities aren’t the only ones who can use their voices to keep Flint moving forward – using hashtags such as #FlintWaterCrisis, #FlintRecovery or #FlintLivesMatter, and making sure you are registered for the upcoming election are actions you can take to  empower Flint’s progress. Let’s keep Flint moving forward together.

Freshwater Weekly – August 31st, 2018

This week: Great Lakes Sees Signs of Climate Change + Lead at Detroit Public Schools + Lake Erie Algae Threat Dissipating

Great Lakes Region Sees Warmer Summer, Extreme Weather Events — Signs of Changing Climate

Flash floods, prolonged droughts, record heat, forest fires, hazy air, algal blooms, and poor water quality have afflicted various parts of the Great Lakes region all summer. Researchers and residents alike are reporting more and more days over 90 degrees, noticeable shifts in historical weather patterns, and altered growing seasons for native plants and crops. Local news sources across the region have documented the effects of climate change that Great Lakes communities are already experiencing. We’ve compiled a handful of the best stories below.

As forest fires burn in Ontario, experts warn of the long-term environmental impact

Behind uneventful Minnesota summer weather lurks signs of climate change

Study: Climate Change Hinders Summer Fun on Lake Erie

Ohio’s Portman: Climate change is real, we have to do something

Algae Bloom in Lake Superior Raises Worries on Climate Change and Tourism

State of Flux: Great Lakes water level variability leads to uncertainty for coastal areas

A few more bad apples: As the climate changes, fruit growing does, too

Algae Toxin Threat on Lake Erie Dissipates As Summer Ends

Algal blooms in Lake Erie often linger well into fall, and experts expect the Lake’s current bloom to stick around until at least mid-October, but the odds of having algal toxins show up in your tap water or favorite beach are falling each day. Researchers say that 70 to 80 percent of each bloom season’s toxins appear in the open water during the month of August, and fewer than 10 percent in September. While Lake Erie shoreline residents aren’t in the clear yet, the riskiest time of the algae season has passed.

High Lead and Copper in Detroit Public Schools Results in Complete Water Shutoff

After test results for 16 schools showed higher than acceptable levels for copper and/or lead, the Detroit Public Schools Community District has announced that they immediately shut off drinking water at those schools. Bottled water has been provided in the interim as the district waits on water coolers to be delivered. Out of an abundance of caution, water will be shut off at the remaining schools in the district later this week until a thorough analysis can be conducted.

In February of 2017, the district announced that drinking water at all 94 of its public schools fell within federal guidelines for lead and copper, a result mirrored by further testing later that same year. It is unknown at this point what has caused the spikes in both metals. One building in particular recorded a drinking fountain at 100 times the allowable limit for lead.

U.S. Court Upholds National Safeguard for Coal Ash, A Top Water Pollution Threat

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s decision last Tuesday adds up to another loss in a string of defeats for the Trump Administration as it attempts to unravel a host of environmental protections from the last decade. The court sided with public interest groups who argued that the Obama-era protections inadequately protected surrounding soil and water from ash pits, and that the Trump Administration is bound by law to strengthen regulations.

Coal ash is the toxic waste left over from coal-burning power plants. It contains some of the deadliest known toxins, including arsenic, lead, radium, mercury, and chromium. These cause various types of cancer, heart disease, reproductive failures, strokes, and long-term brain damage.

The court’s decision follows the release of nationwide testing data that demonstrates groundwater pollution from coal ash at almost 90% of plants (both active and abandoned) in the country. There are currently over 1,400—70% of which are located in low-income areas.

Michigan Reaches Halfway Point in Statewide PFAS Sampling of Water Systems

The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) has announced that its statewide sampling of public water systems for PFAS contamination has reached its midpoint. The $1.7 million survey is the first of its kind in the United States. So far, the state has sampled and tested 892 of the 1,841 public water systems and schools that operate their own wells. 341 of those tests have come back positive: 318 between 0 and 10 parts per trillion (ppt), 22 between 10 and 70 ppt, and 1 above 70 ppt.

While Michigan is one of only a handful of states to establish a “clean-up” or health advisory standard (70 parts per trillion), it’s notably higher than other states such as Minnesota (27/35 ppt) and Vermont (20 ppt). A recently released report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows statistically significant risk above 7-11 ppt. Freshwater Future warns residents in communities affected by PFAS contamination that there is no agreed-upon and established “safe” level of exposure. The State of Michigan will only take remediation action, issue drinking water advisories, and provide alternative water sources for systems who exceed its 70 ppt threshold—which Freshwater Future believes does not accurately reflect the human health risks of PFAS.

The statewide sampling schedule and confirmed test results are published on the MPART web site at: You can use this resource to check on results for your community.