Canada Water Act annual report for 2020 to 2021: chapter 7
7 Ecosystem-based approaches to water quality management
This section describes a number of key cooperation-based ecosystem approaches through which ECCC works to ensure that Canadians have access to clean, safe and healthy water, and that the country’s water resources are used wisely, both economically and ecologically. While not all of these initiatives are formalized under the Act, they do contribute to the objectives of the Act through improving the management of water resources in Canada.
ECCC’s Ecosystem Initiatives are cooperative, place-based programs designed to deliver environmental results in targeted ecosystems. The objective of the Ecosystem Initiatives is to enhance or maintain ecosystem sustainability by addressing a range of local or regional environmental challenges through partnership-based work. Local activities are coordinated by ECCC and undertaken in collaboration with a range of local partners and stakeholders that may include other federal departments, provinces and territories, regional, municipal and local governments, Indigenous Peoples, federal and state governments in the United States, businesses, non‑governmental and community organizations, and colleges and universities.
The Lake Winnipeg Basin Program (LWBP) (2017-2022) is the Government of Canada’s response to addressing water quality issues in Lake Winnipeg. The LWBP aims to engage citizens, scientists, and domestic and international partners in actions to restore the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg, reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality. It does this through the following 3 program priorities: collaborative governance, Indigenous engagement and nutrient reduction.
The Canada-Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin (PDF), signed under the Canada Water Act facilitates a cooperative and coordinated approach between Canada and Manitoba to improve the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg and its basin. As the Memorandum of Understanding expired in September 2020, Canada and Manitoba have initiated the development of a new Memorandum of Understanding.
The water quality in Lake Winnipeg and its basin affects the cultural, social, spiritual, and economic well-being of Indigenous Peoples. The LWBP supports opportunities to build capacity and increase engagement of Indigenous governments, organizations and communities on Lake Winnipeg basin water quality issues, including community-based monitoring and incorporation of traditional knowledge in discussions on the ecosystem health of Lake Winnipeg.
Nutrient reducing actions
Lake Winnipeg experiences large and frequent algal blooms due to high nutrient levels from multiple transboundary sources, including agriculture, industry, municipal wastewater and surface runoff. ECCC, the Manitoba government and other partners are engaging citizens in nutrient reducing activities in several ways, including funding provided through the LWBP.
Through application-based funding, the LWBP continued to support targeted stakeholder-driven projects in 2020-2021 that demonstrate an effective means of reducing phosphorus loading, while also increasing public knowledge and engagement on water quality issues within the basin. This includes activities such as:
- building retention ponds that intercept water flow across the landscape and capture nutrients
- stabilizing river banks and lake shorelines
- restoring wetlands
- using natural infrastructure and innovative technologies to reduce nutrient loading
Projects funded by ECCC and completed between 2010 and 2021 have prevented 270 215 kilograms of phosphorus from reaching Lake Winnipeg.
Figure 6 shows the estimated cumulative reduction in the amount of phosphorus reaching Lake Winnipeg as a result of projects implemented through Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Lake Winnipeg basin programming, Canada, April 2011 to March 2021. Reductions in phosphorus loads to Lake Winnipeg.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) Lake Winnipeg Basin Program
Note: The estimated reduction in phosphorus load is based on the results of LWBP funded projects completed between April 2010 and March 2021. Estimated phosphorus reductions for each project are summed to calculate the total. Year refers to fiscal year, which runs from April 1 to March 31. The year 2021 therefore refers to April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
Lake Winnipeg Basin Program Science Plan
The LWBP Science Plan builds upon previous science efforts that characterized the state of Lake Winnipeg. Research is aimed at improving knowledge of nutrient export to streams and understanding impacts of climate variability and invasive species on the lake. The science plan has 4 priority areas:
- reporting on progress towards restoring a healthy Lake Winnipeg
- monitoring to assess status and track changes
- research on nutrient sources and transport pathways to the lake
- research on lake ecosystem components to achieve a sustainable nutrient balance
The LWBP also supports the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium, which operates and maintains an in-lake science platform on Lake Winnipeg, and the Canadian Watershed Information Network (CanWIN), a web-based open access data and information network.
A significant amount of planned field work could not proceed and new sampling could not be completed by ECCC in 2020-2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, data collected by partners along with historical data and existing models enabled work on scientific projects in 2020-2021 to focus on the following:
- Advancements on the Assiniboine and Red River watershed modeling work included the development of:
- decision support systems using large scale watershed and site-specific models for the Red and Assiniboine Rivers
- downscaled climate data for assessing the historical and projected changes in the basin
- a new process based snow model to assess the snowpack response in the Red and Assiniboine River basin to projected global warming scenarios
- a high resolution lake model and validation of a hydrodynamic model with historical and recent in-situ and remote sensing data
- Scientific analyses based on data obtained prior to the pandemic included:
- the quantification of nutrient sources and transport processes to Lake Winnipeg tributaries
- the development of in-stream biological indicators to track nutrient loading to streams
- the quantification of in-lake processes affecting lake ecology
- the evaluation of food web structures using stable isotopes
- In April 2020, the Governments of Canada and Manitoba released the second edition of the State of Lake Winnipeg Report. By leveraging data from partners as well as ECCC historical and recent data, significant progress has been made to quantify nutrient sources and transport processes to Lake Winnipeg tributaries; in particular, for evaluating the efficacy of BMPs in priority watersheds to reduce nutrient loads to Lake Winnipeg.
- Assessments of algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg using satellite remote sensing were reported through the EOLakeWatch portal. On this site, daily imagery and historical indices for Lake Winnipeg are made available, including algal bloom severity index. The annual algal bloom reports can also be accessed via the portal.
- A special issue of the Journal of Great Lakes Research was published and included studies on the emerging view of Lake Winnipeg after 15 years of whole-lake, whole-ecosystem science.
Some key program highlights from 2020-2021 include the following:
- Fifteen new contribution agreements were signed with funding recipients to provide $1.2 million in financial support for nutrient-reducing actions, advancements in science, information sharing, Indigenous engagement, and collaboration. All of the projects being funded will be completed by March 31, 2022.
- A total of $1.2 million was expended on stakeholder-led projects.
- Publication of a 2020 Algal Bloom Report to provide information on the algal bloom extent, duration, and severity for Lake Winnipeg. Assessments of algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg using satellite remote sensing were reported through the EOLakeWatch portal.
- Four Indigenous students were employed to build capacity in water quality expertise and support Indigenous engagement on Lake Winnipeg water quality issues. These students provided valuable science and policy support.
The Great Lakes Protection Initiative is ECCC’s primary regional program targeting federal water quality and aquatic ecosystem priorities in the Great Lakes. Through the Initiative, ECCC combines science and action to address the most significant threats to Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health. Its current priorities for action include: working with others to protect the Great Lakes, restoring water quality and ecosystem health in Areas of Concern, preventing toxic and nuisance algae, improving the health of coastal wetlands, identifying at-risk nearshore waters, reducing releases of harmful chemicals, engaging Indigenous Peoples in addressing Great Lakes issues, and engaging the public through citizen science.
Freshwater management of the Great Lakes is a responsibility shared by multiple levels of government. To coordinate efforts on water management, restoration and protection, ECCC works in close collaboration with other implicated federal departments, the governments of Ontario and the United States, local governments, Indigenous partners and many other organizations, and individuals. This is accomplished through leading and coordinating implementation of the:
- Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health (COA)(2014), an instrument under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, provides the governments of Canada and Ontario with a shared short-term (5-year) action plan for achieving Canada’s commitments under the GLWQA. A draft 2020 Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health (COA) was published for public comments in 2019 and was expected to be finalized in mid-2021.
- 2012 Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), which establishes long-term binational objectives for the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes.
Key actions completed for the reporting period include:
- Canada, in cooperation with the province of Ontario and other partners, continued to implement the Lake Erie Action Plan to reduce phosphorus loads to Lake Erie from Canadian sources.
- Canada and the United States finalized the Binational Screening Criteria for Nominated Chemicals of Mutual Concern (CMCs). Screening Criteria were developed to provide a consistent framework for reviewing nominated CMCs under the GLWQA.
- In 2020-2021, the Canadian assessment was completed for Lake Superior under the Great Lakes Nearshore Framework, which is a systematic, integrated and comprehensive approach for assessing the nearshore health of the Great Lakes and identifying and communicating cumulative impacts and stresses.
- ECCC continued to assess the vulnerability of coastal wetlands to future climate change.
Preventing toxic and nuisance algae in Lake Erie
Lake Erie frequently experiences both toxic and nuisance algae due to excess phosphorus loading resulting from a combination of physical characteristics and surrounding land use. The situation is further complicated by a changing climate, hydrological patterns and invasive species, all of which are contributing to shifting ecological systems.
The Government of Canada, the province of Ontario, and other partners are taking action to address harmful algal blooms and improve the health of the lake through the implementation of the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan. This 5-year action plan was established in 2018 to reduce phosphorus loadings; ensure effective policies, programs and legislation; improve knowledge; educate and build awareness; and strengthen leadership and coordination.
Through the Great Lakes Protection Initiative, ECCC provides funding for partner-led projects that increase participation in the application of phosphorus load reduction measures in the Lake Erie basin by demonstrating innovative approaches and best management practices, and promoting their broad uptake and application. In 2020-2021, the initiative provided $1 million over 2 years to support 5 new partner-led phosphorus reduction projects that would implement activities such as:
- constructing wetlands in priority areas to capture and store nutrient runoff from upstream agricultural land
- implementing agricultural best management practices, such as cover crops
- applying innovative nutrient recovery technology
- communicating results of projects with other farmers to promote broader uptake
Projects supported through the Great Lakes Protection Initiative resulted in a 20-tonne reduction in total annual phosphorus from Canadian sources to Lake Erie in 2020-2021.
Restoring water quality and ecosystem health in Great Lakes Areas of Concern
Areas of Concern (AOCs) are specific locations, such as rivers, harbours and embayments, where water quality and ecosystem health have been severely degraded by human activity at the local level.
In 1987, Canada and the United States designated 43 AOCs, 12 of which were in Canada and 5 of which are shared between Canada and the United States. Three Canadian AOCs have since been restored through the implementation of individual Remedial Action Plans for each AOC.
There are 14 beneficial use impairments (BUIs) that are assessed in each AOC. Environmental studies and monitoring determine whether beneficial uses in an AOC are impaired and require restoration. Remedial Action Plans to restore beneficial uses are developed and implemented in cooperation with the province of Ontario, with input from First Nations, Métis, municipal governments, watershed management agencies and other local public agencies, and the public. Canada removes a BUI designation when delisting criteria established in the Remedial Action Plan have been met.
Environmental quality in all of Canada's Great Lakes Areas of Concern has improved since the restoration program began. To date, of the 157 BUIs initially identified for remedial actions or further study, 90 have been resolved and removed from the list. Efforts continue to restore and assess the remaining 67.
Canada, in cooperation with the province of Ontario and other partners, continued to restore beneficial uses in AOCs and removed the following BUIs in 2020-2021 in:
- Spanish Harbour – restrictions on dredging activities
- Thunder Bay – degradation of phyto- and zooplankton populations
- Toronto and Region – degradation of aesthetics
- Detroit River– fish tumours and other deformities, degradation of benthos
- Bay of Quinte – restrictions on drinking water consumption, taste/odour problems
As of March 31, 2021, Canada formally removed the AOC designation from Collingwood Harbour, Severn Sound, and Wheatley Harbour – 3 of the original 17 AOCs. In addition, all beneficial uses have been restored in the Nipigon Bay AOC and it will be removed from the list upon final approval of its completion report.
Through the Great Lakes Protection Initiative, Canada provides funding and technical support to partners at the local level to implement remedial and monitoring actions to advance the restoration of beneficial uses in AOCs.
Examples of activities in 2020-2021 which Canada, through ECCC or others, led or supported to restore water quality and ecosystem health in Canadian AOCs include:
- In the Hamilton Harbour AOC, as part of the Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project, Canada and partners dredged approximately 254 000 cubic metres of severely contaminated sediment from the bottom of the harbour and placed it into a 6.2 hectare double-walled engineered containment facility. As of March 31, 2021 dredging was 83% complete, with a total of 503 000 cubic metres now contained.
- In the Thunder Bay AOC, a multi-stakeholder working group provided their recommended option for managing contaminated sediment in Thunder Bay North Harbour, which is now under review by federal and provincial authorities.
- In the Toronto and Region AOC, the naturalization of the mouth of the Don River and transformation of the industrial Port Lands of Toronto continued. This project, which began in 2018, involves creating a new natural river channel to mitigate flooding. Significant riparian habitat, 10 hectares of wetlands, 4 hectares of terrestrial habitat and 1000 metres of new natural river channel and flood plain will be created. Excavation of this river channel continued in 2020 and 2 fish habitat coves were created.
- On the Canadian side of the Detroit River AOC, construction of the Peche Island habitat project started. This project will create 7.6 hectares of new fish habitat. Restoration of another 30.3 hectare of wetland is also underway with the installation of infrastructure to optimize water levels and the removal of invasive aquatic plants to rejuvenate native plant growth.
- On the Canadian side of the Niagara River AOC, a 2-year project is nearing completion to restore up to 10 km of habitat by planting native vegetation along the Niagara River. The project will add to the 2 km already naturalized between 2018 and 2019. Also, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake completed remedial actions including the installation of a stormwater bioswale (channel) that successfully reduced bacterial levels at the local beach.
- On the Canadian side of the St. Clair River AOC, engineering design work continued for the management of mercury-contaminated sediment in 3 priority areas.
- In the Toronto Region and Hamilton Harbour AOCs, major infrastructure project construction continued to improve effluent quality and wet weather management at wastewater treatment plants. These projects will reduce the need for sewage bypasses and lead to improved water quality and ecosystem health in these AOCs. The city of Hamilton’s Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plan Upgrade is nearing completion. The plant will provide tertiary level of treatment.
- In the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC, a nearshore eutrophication strategy was completed and 5 rural best management practices implemented to reduce phosphorus and sediment loading to the river.
Scientific research and monitoring
ECCC undertakes research, modelling and monitoring to support decision-making in the Great Lakes. In 2020-2021, typical monitoring science activities in the Great Lakes and connecting channels were not completed due to restrictions in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Science-related work included ongoing water quality assessments in the Great Lakes, the review and update of binational Lakewide Action and Management Plans, and ongoing data collection and analysis to support binational State of the Great Lakes environmental indicators and reporting.
In addition, Canada studied plankton, fish, wildlife, and habitat to assess the current status of BUIs within Canadian AOCs. These assessments help with the design of effective remedial actions and confirm when delisting criteria have been met and beneficial uses have been restored.
Assessments contributed in several other areas, with recent examples including:
- Scientific assessments recommended a “not impaired” status for the: Detroit River AOC Degradation of Phyto-Zooplankton Populations BUI; St. Clair River AOC Fish Tumours and Other Deformities BUI; and the Bay of Quinte AOC Degradation of Aesthetics BUI. Future engagement with communities will seek input for these decisions.
- In Niagara River, St. Clair River, Detroit River, Hamilton Harbour and Toronto and Region AOCs, surveys were underway to determine fish consumption habits of each AOC community and Indigenous communities to assist in progress on the Restrictions on Fish Consumption BUIs in each AOC.
- In the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC, a fish contaminant study was initiated with Mohawks of Akwesasne to assess the status of the Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption BUI.
- In Jackfish Bay, Spanish Harbour, Niagara River and St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOCs, assessment of natural recovery of sediments continued.
- In the Bay of Quinte AOC, development of a long term phosphorus management strategy continued with enhanced modelling work on phosphorus loads for to address harmful algal blooms.
- Analysis of existing data was undertaken for:
- water quality, plankton and algae in Hamilton Harbour, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Thames River
- groundwater nutrient fluxes in the Thames basin
- phosphorus levels in Lake Ontario
- water quality and sediment chemistry in the St. Clair River and Niagara River
- Joint assessment of Lake St. Clair water quality (2016 to 2019) continued in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Canada undertook numerous scientific activities in 2020-2021 in partnership with the Governments of Ontario and the United States to support implementation of the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan with the goal of reducing annual phosphorus loading into Lake Erie by 40% from a 2008 baseline. This included improved calculation of phosphorus loads from Canadian sources and, in October 2020, issuing of the first annual Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) report on phosphorus loadings (PDF, 859 KB) (Figure 7). Lake Erie phosphorus loads are publicly reported annually through various mechanisms.
|Year||Total phosphorus loading, United States portion (tonnes per year)||Total phosphorus loading, Canada portion (tonnes per year)||Total phosphorus loading, Basin total, (tonnes per year)|
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020)
Note: Basin total values include loadings from runoff and tributaries in Canada and the United States, flows from Lake Huron and atmospheric sources of phosphorus. Half of the total phosphorus loadings from atmospheric sources and from Lake Huron were allocated to each country.
Research tools were developed to provide daily satellite imagery to map the extent of algal blooms and for assessing the spatial/temporal trends of these blooms in Lake Erie. Studies using remote sensing and in situ observations were conducted to further develop satellite chlorophyll-retrieval algorithms.
Three-dimensional modelling of in situ contaminant distributions was completed for a St. Mary’s River sediment deposit, confirming a consistent improvement in sediment quality over time.
In 2020-2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the suspension of monitoring activities related to the abundance of benthis algae and dreissenid mussels, the focus shifted to analysis and interpretation of existing data collected to investigate the factors contributing to excessive algal growth in the nearshore areas of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Data and syntheses were used to improve and refine integrated watershed-lake models and informed binational task teams assessing current nutrient targets developed to control the extent of hypoxia and the wash-up of algae on shorelines.
Research efforts advanced the development of new modelling capability for understanding the effect of catchment inputs on local water quality and benthic algae (Cladophora) and improving our understanding of major drivers of variation. Improved modelling efforts were conducted to assist the development of east basin nutrient objectives.
Integrated watershed-lake models were implemented for Lake Erie to improve understanding of the factors responsible for hypoxia and periodic wash-up of algae on shorelines.
In 2020-2021, an ECCC contribution agreement with Swim Drink Fish Canada allowed them to engage Canadians in a citizen science project to conduct water quality monitoring of beaches and other recreational waters and to educate citizens about the significance of water, where water comes from and how to use it sustainably.
Swim Drink Fish Canada has established several monitoring hubs in the Great Lakes. In 2020, a fourth hub was added in Kingston on Lake Ontario. Previous monitoring hubs were established in downtown Toronto through its Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Initiative; on Manitoulin Island hosted by Zhiibaahaasing First Nation; and on the eastern shores of Lake Erie in the Niagara Region. Volunteers help hub coordinators collect water samples in places where people swim, boat, and hold ceremonial activities.
In 2020-2021, volunteer training curriculum was developed and the citizen science data collected was made available to the public through an Open Data Portal. In Toronto, the hub engaged 233 youth through a collaboration with Harbourfront Centre Camps.
The St. Lawrence Action Plan is a platform for collaboration between the Canadian and Quebec governments intended to strengthen collective efforts for the integrated management of the St. Lawrence Basin, and to carry out joint actions to conserve and enhance its ecosystem. These efforts focus on 3 priorities:
- biodiversity conservation
- improved water quality
- sustainable use
The Canada-Quebec Agreement on the St. Lawrence 2011-2026 allows for implemention of the St. Lawrence Action Plan that covers a span of 15 years, with 5-year planning cycles.
This multi-year program, which has been renewed 5 times since it was first signed in 1988, has helped produce concrete results through cooperative efforts from the private sector, universities, research centres, Areas of Prime Concern committees (zones d’intervention prioritaire, known as ZIP committees), non-governmental organizations and riverside communities. The program focuses on all of the St. Lawrence River’s ecosystems and on the mouths of its main tributaries, from Lake Saint-François, straddling the border between Quebec and Ontario, to the eastern reaches of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Overview of the State of the St. Lawrence River 2019 (PDF) was published in November 2020.
The last fact sheets released in March 2021 were related to:
- Shellfish water quality in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence (PDF)
- St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whale;
- Phytoplankton, toxic algae and zooplankton in the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence (PDF)
- Oceanographic processes: Temperatures, dissolved oxygen and acidification (PDF)
In 2020-2021, work on 37 projects identified in the annual report for 2019-2020 continued, including:
- the identification of important fish and interconnected habitat for protection and restoration
- an Integrated Biodiversity Conservation Plan for the Lowlands and Coastal Areas of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence
- a study of the potential for re-establishing the functional connectivity of biodiversity hotspots in the St. Lawrence lowlands, including tools for knowledge transfer
- wetland rehabilitation guidance for the St. Lawrence
- the promotion of recreational fishing along the St. Lawrence, including the implementation of an incentive program
- the quantification of the contribution of dissolved and particulate organic matter to hypoxia and the acidification of the deep waters of the St. Lawrence estuary
- a study of the impacts of hydrocarbons and dispersants on aquatic freshwater organisms
- a study of the use of retention ponds to capture pesticides and nutrients in surface water and agricultural runoff in the Lake Saint-Pierre area
- a study of the current state and evolution of the weed beds and plant ecosystems of Lake Saint-Pierre, including the impacts of algal blooms and the presence of cyanotoxins
- a study of the eco-toxicological effects of sewage discharge from the city of Montreal after its disinfection treatment by ozonation (tertiary wastewater treatment)
- a study of the risk associated with the presence of the cytostatics (new pharmaceutical products/anti-cancer substances) in the St. Lawrence river
A network of governmental and non-governmental collaborators continued to conduct sampling campaigns required to obtain scientific data through the State of the St. Lawrence River Monitoring Program. Some research activities such as the fluvial transport of contaminants in water, benthic communities in Lake Saint-Pierre, wetland vegetation in Lake Saint-Pierre and Boucherville Islands were postponed due to the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activities under the St. Lawrence Action Plan’s numerical environmental predictions working group continued in 2020-2021. These activities are done through federal-provincial collaboration under the St. Lawrence Action Plan. The main activities of the group were:
- hydrological modelling and routing of waters entering via the watersheds of St. Lawrence tributaries
- two-dimensional hydrodynamic modelling of the St. Lawrence River, lac des Deux-Montagnes, lac Saint-Louis, the LaPrairie Basin, rivière des Mille-Îles, rivière des Prairies, and the Sainte-Anne and Vaudreuil channels
Community involvement and awareness
Under the St. Lawrence Action Plan, ECCC and Quebec’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Fight against Climate Change (Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques du Québec) are implementing the Community Interaction Program (CIP), which provides funding to non-governmental organizations and Indigenous communities for projects that aim to conserve and enhance the ecosystem of the St. Lawrence.
In 2020-2021, ECCC distributed $376,249 in funding for 12 projects. These projects involved riverside communities, including municipalities, First Nations, and relevant provincial and federal departments. Specifically, the projects funded were intended to:
- restore waterways in agricultural areas
- restore habitats for fish in Lake St-Paul and for turtles in the Montreal Archipelago
- raise public awareness of the problem of microplastics and solutions to reduce them at the source
- promote the voluntary conservation of natural environments and habitats of migratory marine birds
- control the invasion of exotic plant species in wetlands
Moreover, the Areas of Prime Concern Program supports Stratégies Saint-Laurent and its 12 CIP committees in their cohesive actions to engage and support local stakeholders working to improve the quality of the surrounding environment.
The Atlantic Ecosystems Initiatives (AEI) provides grants and contributions funding for projects that improve the health, productivity, and long-term sustainability of ecosystems in Atlantic Canada. The program supports projects that use an ecosystem-based approach and include broad collaboration and cooperative action resulting in positive environmental impacts throughout Atlantic Canada. The program funds Atlantic Canadian organizations, including non-government organizations, coalitions and networks of organizations, research and academic institutions, and Indigenous governments and organizations to deliver projects that address integrated ecosystem planning and decision-making, coordinated science and action initiatives.
In 2020-2021, ECCC committed over $1.1M in funding for 6 new multi-year AEI projects to enhance integrated ecosystem planning and decision-making, increase ecosystem knowledge and science, and undertake actions to conserve, restore, and enhance the Wolastoq/Saint John River Watershed and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Watershed ecosystems.
The following projects received funding:
- In both the Wolastoq/Saint John River and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Watersheds:
- Eastern Charlotte Waterways Inc. is working to create a map of scientifically determined watercourse buffer widths in priority watersheds in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick using existing environmental data to determine the site specific factors to be considered in buffer design and GIS (Geographic Information System) to create the maps
- Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation is taking action to determine levels of microplastics in priority areas and their impact on commercially and environmentally important species, using the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) as an indicator species
- In the Wolastoq/Saint John River Watershed:
- The Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP) Saint John Inc. will inform water managers and policy makers on water threats and the effects of nutrients to better regulate water quality and inform the public. This will include identification of high nutrient concentrations sites where site health will be investigated by assessing water quality and fish health. A computer model will be created using water quality data to predict ways to protect ecosystems, as well as how animal and plant communities change in response to excess nutrients.
- Researchers at the University of New Brunswick will generate information about the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of toxic blue-green algal mats in the Wolastoq/Saint John River Watershed in order to understand and predict changes to the algal mats in space and time. Researchers will investigate the factors associated with the presence and rapid increase of blue-green algal mats.
- Researchers at the University of New Brunswick will also assess factors affecting water quality and nutrient transport in the Upper Wolastoq/Saint John River basin. A comprehensive examination of in-water nutrient concentrations will be completed. Water quality maps and results generated with models for both current and future climatic conditions will help inform and focus planning in-field remediation efforts to improve water quality. The proposed modelling system will have multiple uses long-term, including modelling of nutrient flow dynamics in other priority watersheds across Atlantic Canada as well as climate change adaptation planning in flood- and drought-prone areas.
- In the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Watershed:
- The Coalition-Southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence will track the effects of bacteria and nutrient contamination from stressors such as development, agriculture and industry on water quality in estuaries. Levels and locations of contaminants and their impact on 6 estuaries with both ecologic and economic importance will be examined. In partnership with local watershed groups, data will be collected to inform resource managers, jurisdictional agencies and watershed organizations about potential remediation projects that could decrease contaminant levels. Data will also be made accessible and usable for long-term trend analyses.
In 2020-2021, ECCC continued to focus on 4 key commitments for the Wolastoq/Saint John River watershed under the Freshwater Action Plan:
- increased coordination and cooperation among orders of government
- enhanced Indigenous and stakeholder engagement
- coordinated freshwater science and assessments
- strengthened information sharing
Activities were undertaken to advance a coordinated and integrated management approach for the watershed. ECCC initiated meetings and discussions with other partners (Canadian and United States governments, provincial and state governments, non government institutions and groups, and Indigenous Peoples) to advance shared priorities such as water quality monitoring, data management and access, freshwater assessment, citizen science, and information sharing.
Progress continued under the Wəlastəkw River Interim Statement of Cooperation signed in 2017 by ECCC, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Wolastoqey (Maliseet) Chiefs, and several U.S. Federal Agencies (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior (Bureau of Indian Affairs)). Although International Summits were not held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the partners continued discussions to advance a watershed governance model and organizational structure going forward.
ECCC funded economic study of the Wolastoq/Saint John River to identify and quantify key economic sectors within the watershed, uses of the watershed, and to identify risks or costs associated with potential changes in environmental quality. The study also identified natural assets such as forests, water supply, wetlands and estuaries, and the ecosystem goods and services they provide, such as recreation (fishing, boating, swimming, and ecotourism) and climate change mitigation.
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