Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes: annex 1

Annex 1: nutrients

The purpose of this annex is to address the issue of excess nutrients and reduce harmful and nuisance algal blooms.

There is an urgent need for a coordinated and strategic response to nutrient management issues in the Great Lakes, and in Lake Erie in particular. In the 1970s and 1980s, collaborative efforts to reduce phosphorus were successful and lake conditions improved. By 1985, phosphorus loadings into the Great Lakes were at or below targets identified in the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. However, since the mid-1990s there has been a resurgence of algal blooms in Lake Erie and the nearshore areas of Lakes Huron and Ontario.

The reasons for the occurrence of algal blooms are now more complex than in past decades. The introduction of invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels and round gobies, changes in agricultural production systems, increased urbanization, and climate change are all contributing factors. New solutions are required.

The Great Lakes are currently experiencing nutrient levels that impair human use and also result in harmful effects on ecosystem functions. This annex recognizes that the continued environmental, social and economic health of the Great Lakes basin requires the effective and efficient management of nutrients from human activities. It addresses the need for improved understanding of nutrient issues while continuing to develop and promote actions to improve nutrient management and to reduce inputs from wastewater and stormwater.

Actions to understand and address issues related to nearshore water quality, aquatic ecosystem health, and harmful and nuisance algae will continue for all the Great Lakes. However, early efforts will be focused on the nearshore and open waters of Lake Erie, and on priority watersheds. This focus on Lake Erie will address the lake at greatest risk and maximize returns on investment while generating scientific data and policy approaches that may be transferable to the other Great Lakes and potentially to aquatic ecosystems elsewhere in Canada.

There are a number of complementary initiatives that contribute to the goal of reducing harmful and nuisance algal blooms in the Great Lakes. These include federal and provincial investments in nutrient related research and monitoring; green infrastructure, wastewater technologies and facilities upgrades; and improvements in urban and rural land use and land management practices. Working with the Great Lakes community, this annex strives towards the long-term goal of attaining the sustainable use of nutrients for the continued health and productivity of the Great Lakes ecosystem and economy. Specific commitments are provided to enhance the scientific understanding of nutrient dynamics, develop phosphorus targets and action plans, reduce nutrient inputs from urban and rural stormwater and wastewater, and increase the efficiency of agricultural nutrient use consistent with a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem and economy. Commitments in other annexes including lakewide management, climate change impacts and promoting innovation also contribute to reducing excessive nutrients.

Goal 1: Improve understanding of nutrient requirements and environmental conditions needed to maintain algal populations consistent with a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem.

Result 1.1 - Improved understanding of sources, transport and fate of nutrients in the Great Lakes, with an emphasis on Lake Erie.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (a) Improve knowledge and understanding of nutrient concentrations and loadings in Great Lakes tributary discharges, with an emphasis on Lake Erie tributaries;

  • (b) Improve knowledge and understanding of phosphorus sources, the forms of phosphorus being discharged to the Great Lakes, and their seasonal characteristics; and

  • (c) Enhance information on land use, soil and management practices relevant to excess phosphorus in the Great Lakes, with specific emphasis on Lakes Erie and Huron.

Ontario will:

  • (d) Conduct sub-watershed and field scale research to support the ongoing development and implementation of new approaches and technologies for the reduction of phosphorus from agricultural sources;

  • (e) Investigate the contribution of natural heritage features to reducing excess phosphorus from rural and agricultural landscapes; and

  • (f) Support monitoring in priority watersheds to quantify land use-water quality relationships, including conducting event based monitoring where feasible.

Result 1.2 - Improved understanding of nutrient levels and environmental conditions that trigger nuisance and harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, with an emphasis on Lake Erie.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (a) Undertake water quality monitoring related to algae conditions in the Great Lakes; and

  • (b) Improve knowledge and understanding of the causal relationships between factors such as duration, intensity, frequency and timing of storms; aquatic invasive species; land use and management; hydrological processes; internal nutrient cycling; hypoxia and harmful and nuisance algal production in the Great Lakes.

Ontario will:

  • (c) Support monitoring, research and modelling activities designed to understand past and present coastal processes, stresses and nearshore dynamics and to inform future actions in coast priority areas.

Goal 2: Establish science-based phosphorus concentration and loading targets and develop action plans to manage the transport of excess nutrients from urban, agricultural and rural landscapes consistent with a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem and economy.

Result 2.1 - Establishment of phosphorus concentration and loading targets for priority tributaries, nearshore and offshore waters of Lake Erie.

Canada will lead, with Ontario’s support:

  • (a) Review and revision of, as appropriate, existing nutrient and biotic indicators for aquatic ecosystem health to ensure that they support and measure progress towards the goals identified in this Annex;

  • (b) Development of integrated in-lake and watershed ecosystem models, taking climate change into consideration where relevant, to determine phosphorus load reduction targets for Canadian Lake Erie tributaries by 2016;

  • (c) Development of science-based phosphorus concentration and load reduction targets for selected Canadian tributaries and offshore waters of Lake Erie consistent with a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem by 2016;

  • (d) Development of science-based, nearshore targets that reflect the complexity of nearshore biological and physical processes and support a reduction in the severity and extent of harmful algal blooms and production of benthic algae by 2016;

  • (e) Synthesis of available aquatic nutrient science to guide phosphorus management planning and actions in the Great Lakes by 2016; and

  • (f) Engagement of the United States in establishing binational phosphorus concentrations and load reduction targets for Lake Erie by 2016 consistent with the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, including consultation with United States federal and state agencies, other federal departments, other provincial agencies, and the Great Lakes community.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (g) Apply the knowledge gained in the development of targets for Lake Erie to an assessment of the need for revised targets for other Great Lakes and priority watersheds.

Canada will:

  • (h) Monitor and report on nutrient loadings in selected Canadian tributaries in the Lake Erie watershed in 2014 and 2015.

Result 2.2 - Action plans to work towards meeting phosphorus concentration and loading targets for the Great Lakes, with an emphasis on Lake Erie.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (a) Assess existing programs, policies and legislation that contribute to managing excess phosphorus in the Great Lakes;

  • (b) Investigate the socio-economic benefits and costs to Great Lakes communities and industries of actions to minimize nuisance and harmful algal blooms; and

  • (c) Develop and begin implementation of a Canadian Phosphorus Management Strategy for Lake Erie by 2018 to increase nutrient use efficiency and reduce nuisance and harmful algal blooms.

Canada will lead, with Ontario’s support:

  • (d) Participate in the development and implementation of phosphorus management plans for priority watersheds and/or key sectors in Lakes Erie, Huron and Ontario, including targets based on science and the Principle of Sustainability which considers environmental, economic and social factors.

Goal 3: Reduce excess nutrient loadings to the Great Lakes resulting from stormwater and wastewater from urban and rural communities.

Result 3.1 - Reduction in excess nutrient loadings from stormwater and wastewater collection and treatment facilities in urban and rural communities.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (a) Identify and promote priority actions to assist municipalities to meet commitments in the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement;

  • (b) Promote eligible investments that support the reduction of excess nutrients from point sources such as municipal wastewater treatment systems or municipal stormwater effluent as priority considerations under applicable infrastructure and other funding programs; and

  • (c) Undertake a review of options to align the collection and reporting of data to support science-based data analyses and provide robust and reliable information about nutrient loadings from regulated sewage treatment plants.

Canada will:

  • (d) Through the Lake Simcoe/South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-Up Fund, support urban projects to reduce phosphorus inputs to South East Georgian Bay.

Ontario will:

  • (e) Provide funding support to eligible municipalities for water infrastructure asset management;

  • (f) Provide information and support to municipalities to foster the optimization of wastewater treatment plants;

  • (g) Improve tracking of sewage overflows and bypasses, and continue to monitor incidents and municipal actions to minimize them, as a means to encourage municipalities to complete and implement pollution prevention control plans and consider climate change vulnerabilities;

  • (h) Update Ontario’s municipal wastewater policy and approvals process, including:
    1. policies specific to stormwater, green infrastructure, construction runoff and sediment management;
    2. guidance to facilitate the uptake of innovative source control measures that reduce stormwater volumes and enhance resilience to climate change, such as green infrastructure and low impact development;
    3. encouragement of the use of green infrastructure and low impact development early in municipal planning decisions, so that stormwater and climate change adaptation are considered as part of project design and approvals; and
  • (i) Monitor the performance and effectiveness of stormwater and green infrastructure projects and communicate the results.

Goal 4: Reduce excess nutrients through improved efficiency of nutrient use in agricultural production to support a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem, consistent with a sustainable and competitive agriculture sector.

Result 4.1 - Improved understanding and development of practices and technologies for nutrient use efficiency.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (a) Define, collect and analyze information about the current use of nutrients in selected agricultural landscapes and production systems; and

  • (b) Research and develop innovative approaches and technologies for improved nutrient and water management in agricultural production.

Ontario will:

  • (c) Test and investigate the efficacy of management practices at field and sub-watershed scales.

Result 4.2 - Increased adoption of cost-effective practices and technologies to improve nutrient use efficiency and reduce the risk of loss of excess nutrients from agricultural production.

Canada and Ontario will:

  • (a) Develop and implement programs and tools for the agri-food sector to raise awareness and increase adoption of environmental farm planning and beneficial management practices by providing educational opportunities, technical advice, and funding.

Canada will:

  • (b) Through the Lake Simcoe/South-eastern Georgian Bay Clean-Up Fund, support agricultural projects to reduce phosphorus inputs to South-eastern Georgian Bay.

Ontario will:

  • (c) Support demonstration projects to increase adoption of management practices in selected agricultural landscapes that increase nutrient use efficiency and reduce the risk of phosphorus losses; and

  • (d) Model the environmental and economic effects of beneficial management practices in pilot sub-watersheds, and monitor water quality change within sub-watersheds to verify models for continuous improvement.
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