Biden’s planned cleanup of the Great Lakes highlights region’s environmental efforts
The next step is the so-called "Action Plan to Protect the Great Lakes," a 10-year, billion-dollar effort to protect the lakes from climate change.
Long before climate change seized the global conscience, when the environment struggled for political traction, North America’s Great Lakes were a dumping ground — a toxic monument to industrial excess on either side of the Canada-U.S. border.
More than three decades later, North America’s single largest source of freshwater is back in the public spotlight, this time for seemingly all the right reasons — thanks, at least in part, to the political woes of a certain U.S. president.
Joe Biden, facing a Republican reckoning in November’s midterm elections, marked one year since his inauguration with a vow to get out of the White House and brag a little more about his legislative wins.
“I’m going to get out of this place more often,” Biden said. “I’m going to make the case of what we’ve already done, why it’s important, and what will happen if they support what else I want to do.”
So it was, then, that Biden found himself in Lorain, Ohio, last month, announcing plans to spend no less than US$1 billion on what he called the most significant restoration of the resource “in the history of the Great Lakes.”
The money is a small portion of the $1.2-trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which the White House has been promoting throughout 2022 after the pre-Christmas collapse of what was supposed to be the administration’s crowning achievement: the $2-trillion climate and social spending package known as the Build Back Better bill.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has a news conference scheduled on Mar. 9 near Hamilton Harbour alongside Ontario counterpart David Piccini, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward.
He’ll announce that Randle Reef, long the single most polluted area of concern on the Canadian side of the lakes, is now fully contained inside a multimillion-dollar engineered containment facility, thanks to the combined efforts of the two governments.
Three other areas of concern — Collingwood Harbour, Severn Sound and Wheatley Harbour — have all been fully restored, while necessary remedial actions in Spanish Harbour and Jackfish Bay have also been completed.
The federal government is bound to protecting the lakes through the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which dates back to 1972 but was renewed in 2012, as well as a new agreement with the Ontario government that took effect just last June.
That agreement sets a 2026 deadline for Ottawa and the province to shore up six other specific areas of concern in Ontario, including Nipigon Bay, Peninsula Harbour, Niagara River, Port Hope Harbour, the Bay of Quinte and the St. Lawrence River.
The federal government is also spending C$17.4 million over the next two years to work with provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders in setting up a new Canada Water Agency that would backstop the cleanup effort.
Canada has not been lagging the U.S., Hartig added, citing the $139-million project on Randle Reef and about $80 million spent since 1987 on habitat rehabilitation along the shores of Lake Ontario near Toronto.
The next step, he said, is the so-called “Action Plan to Protect the Great Lakes,” a 10-year, billion-dollar effort to protect the lakes from climate change, exposure to toxins, algal blooms and contaminated beaches.
In 2021, Ontario provided $1.9 million through the Great Lakes Local Action Fund to help advance 44 projects led by community-based organizations, municipalities, conservation authorities and Indigenous communities to protect and restore coastal, shoreline and nearshore areas of the Great Lakes.