Niagara River: Area of Concern

The Niagara River Remedial Action Plan process is a collaborative, consensus-building process involving many agencies, and has included extensive consultation with the public during all stages of its development and implementation. Extensive progress on restoring the Area of Concern (AOC) has been made, through the clean-up of contaminated sediment, the creation of extensive fish and wildlife habitat, and the reduction of nutrients entering the watercourses.

Why was it listed as an Area of Concern?

The Niagara River was designated an AOC because a review of available data indicated that water quality and environmental health were severely degraded. Elevated levels of toxic chemicals in the river and fish were found; the chemicals originated from contaminated sediments on the Canadian side of the river.

As a result, nine of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement's 14 beneficial use indicators (BUIs) of environmental quality were deemed as impaired and one as requiring further assessment.

What has been accomplished?

There have been many improvements towards restoring the Canadian section of the Niagara River AOC which has resulted in three beneficial uses being restored and re-designated as “not impaired” in 2009: fish tumours or other deformities, bird and animal deformities or reproductive problems, and restrictions on dredging activities. Efforts continue to restore the remaining six impaired beneficial uses: restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, degradation of fish and wildlife populations, eutrophication or undesirable algae, beach closings, and degradation of benthos. With contributions of approximately $7.8 Million since 1990, Environment Canada and Climate Change has collaborated with partners on numerous initiatives, including:

  • removing approximately 10,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment from the Welland River and the removal of arsenic-contaminated sediment from Lyon’s Creek West;
  • completing 23 projects to remediate non-point pollution sources in the Welland River watershed since 1994 which have reduced the entry of nutrients from sources such as manure from entering local watercourses and ultimately the Niagara River;
  • creating 147 hectares of wetland and 338 hectares of forest, as well as the planting of 54 kilometres of shoreline vegetation;
  • completing the Welland River fish barrier program which resulted in the mitigation or removal of 165 fish barriers, opening up 800 kilometres of fish passage;
  • restoring over 750 metres of eroding river bank through the Niagara River Bank Stabilization Project; and
  • creating extensive areas of coastal wetland habitat to provide habitat for young of the year walleye, suckers, musky and other species in the Niagara River.

There have also been significant declines in the concentrations of chemicals in fish and wildlife. Monitoring undertaken through the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan has shown that pollutant loads of 18 priority toxics (such as chlorinated benzenes, pesticides, Mirex and industrial chemicals) in Ontario have been reduced by up to 99% between 1986 and 1995.

What’s left to do?

The assessment has been completed for the degradation of benthos impaired beneficial use. It is anticipated that this BUI will be formally redesignated over the next two years, which is a direct result of the clean-up of contaminated sediments throughout the AOC.

The degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton beneficial use requires further assessment to confirm whether it is degraded or not.

A track-down study will identify sources of bacteria that result in restrictions on swimming at one beach in the Canadian section of the AOC and a clean-up plan will be developed.

The creation of aquatic and wetland habitat will continue, which directly addresses the loss of fish and wildlife habitat and degradation of fish and wildlife populations impaired beneficial uses. Monitoring of changes in the ecosystem is also on-going, to evaluate the success of restoration efforts.

Continued implementation of the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan through actions addressing point and non-point sources of toxic contamination. This will address the restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption impaired beneficial use.


The Niagara River is a binational AOC, meaning that continued effort is required in both Canada and the United States to achieve delisting. Environment and Climate Change Canada will continue to work with local and provincial partners to support restoration actions and the environmental monitoring and assessment studies needed to confirm that environmental quality objectives are met. Provided that these objectives are achieved, it is anticipated that all actions to finalize the clean-up of the Canadian section of the Niagara River AOC will be completed by 2019.


Efforts in the Niagara River (Canadian section) are undertaken in a partnership between the Government of Canada, other levels of government and non-government groups, including members of the public.

Undertaking environmental restoration requires a large amount of scientific and technical expertise, local knowledge and hard work. One agency or group cannot engage in such a large task on its own, without the help of others.

Listed below are participants that have contributed to efforts in the Niagara River (Canadian section):

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