There is a demonstrated need to restore and maintain the Great Lakes ecosystem. The Great Lakes have enormous environmental, social and economic importance and value to Canada. Current and emerging environmental concerns for the Great Lakes require ongoing attention from the Government of Canada.
The Great Lakes program is aligned with federal government and ECCC priorities, including the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’s Goal 3 to maintain water quality and availability, and ECCC’s strategic outcome “Canada’s natural environment is conserved and restored for present and future generations.” The program is also consistent with federal government roles and responsibilities as specified in relevant legislation and international commitments.
Performance – Efficiency and Economy
Evidence indicates that the overall design of the Great Lakes program is appropriate for achieving its intended outcomes: the designs of the GLNI, GLAP and GLSRP are logical; program structures, processes and science are aligned with the updated GLWQA; a process exists for re-designating BUIs and delisting AOCs; and grants and contributions (Gs&Cs) are an effective mechanism for supporting partners to help achieve program results. Some concern was expressed regarding the need for a more clearly defined and timely process for delisting AOCs and reallocating resources, as well as the adequacy of science capacity to meet an expected increase in demand.
The management and governance mechanisms established in 2012 for the renewed GLWQA, including the Great Lakes Executive Committee and 10 Annex Subcommittees, have improved governance, set up binational processes to achieve a variety of objectives consistent with ECCC’s program outcomes, and led to a more open and transparent governance process. In the view of some key informants, however, it is premature to draw final conclusions about the effectiveness of the GLWQA governance structure, particularly the Great Lakes Executive Committee, which will not be fully understood until substantial issues and decisions are addressed by the Canadian and US governments in the months and years ahead. Communications and collaboration are noted as challenges because of the number of program initiatives and stakeholder organizations involved. In addition, although roles and responsibilities are defined in the GLWQA, they are not yet clearly understood by all stakeholders.
Most stakeholders consulted generally agree that Great Lakes initiatives are cost-effective. The project file review indicates that the Gs&Cs component has leveraged approximately three-quarters of project resources from sources other than ECCC, and the estimated combined administrative costs of the GLAP and GLNI programs are comparable to those observed for other ECCC Gs&Cs programs.
The program reports federally and provincially through the COA and binationally through the Canada–US GLWQA on progress in meeting commitments in the agreements. While there are logic models for GLNI, GLAP and the Sediment Remediation projects, there is no formal overall logic model and performance measurement strategy for the Great Lakes sub-program. Program managers and scientists reported that performance data generally are adequate but that significant improvements could be made (e.g., it is difficult to integrate and aggregate data from the various Great Lakes program initiatives).
Performance – Effectiveness
The work being conducted as part of GLNI is on track and good progress has been made toward the Initiative’s five objectives and associated direct outcomes. Progress has been made in science and monitoring to measure phosphorus loads, including the development of inventories, models and baseline information about nutrients. Research documented through GLWQA Annex Subcommittee reports has led to a better understanding of nutrient loadings and other factors that affect water quality, ecosystem health and algae growth. The Annex 4 Nutrients Subcommittee has summarized the research on nutrient loadings in Lake Erie from Canadian tributaries and recommended phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie. ECCC has completed an evaluation of policy options for reducing phosphorus discharges to Lake Erie, and efforts to further assess and refine these options are expected to continue as part of the development of Canada’s Domestic Action Plan. Progress has also been made by the Annex 2 Lakewide Management Subcommittee; a draft binational nearshore assessment and management framework was completed in February 2016.
With respect to intermediate outcomes, understanding of the nearshore has improved through the process of developing a nearshore assessment and management framework, and efforts to manage the nearshore are planned to intensify once the framework has been approved in 2016. Regarding the intended outcome of minimizing the occurrence and impacts of algae, although some progress has been made over the past decades in reducing algae in Lake Erie, there is research evidence indicating that recent algae blooms are a result of excessive nutrient loadings and that there has been a levelling off or reversal of earlier reductions in nutrient loadings. It is premature to assess other GLNI intermediate outcomes because work on phosphorus load reduction targets and a nearshore assessment and management framework is not yet finalized.
Acceptable progress has been made on GLAP’s immediate outcomes. Remedial actions in AOCs are being implemented through the development of Remedial Action Plans and implementation of funded projects focused on BUIs and AOCs with the involvement of local partners. Identification of environmental problems and progress in AOCs is being achieved through science and monitoring as well as the preparation of Remedial Action Plans, Annual Workplans and Progress Reports for AOCs. In addition, management and coordination of efforts to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem have improved with the governance structure and processes of the 2012 GLWQA.
Progress has also been made toward intermediate and longer-term outcomes. For example, in the evaluation timeframe, 17 beneficial uses were restored. Overall, since 1987, 54 beneficial uses out of a total of 146 across all 17 AOCs have been restored to “not impaired” status, three AOCs have been delisted and two more designated as being in the recovery stage. Although no AOCs were delisted during the five-year evaluation timeframe, in 2011 one AOC was designated as being in recovery. ECCC is meeting its international commitments under the GLWQA.
As it is premature to assess the degree of outcome achievement for GLSRP, progress to date on the Randle Reef project was examined. While the project has experienced numerous delays, design and planning for this project is now completed and preliminary work on the seven-year project began in the fall of 2015. Construction of the containment facility in the first phase began in the spring of 2016, with final capping and completion of the project scheduled for 2022. The federal government is contributing $46.3 million of the total project cost of $138.9 million.
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