Canada
Rebound of a river

Niagara river.

Credits: MIKE DIBATTISTA /NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW/QMI AGENCY

DON FRASER | QMI AGENCY

ST. CATHARINES, ON — What a difference a quarter century has made for the Niagara River.

Sail back to the 1970s and the river was a toxic mess.

The Love Canal area in Niagara Falls, N.Y., was so chemically degraded, it was declared a U.S. federal health emergency. Hundreds of residents were relocated.

Back then, about 700 industries discharged 250 million gallons of wastewater a day into the river, which connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

By 1987, public outrage and co-ordinated government action in Canada and the U.S. helped turn the tide dramatically.

“It has been an incredible change,” Niagara College professor Annie Michaud said.

“And it’s been a great success story,” she said. “I think if people looked back to how the river was then and how it is now, they’d see a huge improvement in the overall health of the watershed and quality.”

On Thursday, Brock University’s Niagara Community Observatory released a policy brief on Michaud's study.

Her findings show a staggering turnaround:

— A 99% reduction of discharges from Ontario municipal and industrial sources
— Huge reductions in toxic chemicals
— A cleanup of contaminated sediments, and a special wastewater treatment facility in Niagara Falls
—Three of four public beaches in the river's “area of concern” now meet targets for safe swimming

Niagara River facts:

— 58 kilometres long, flows between Canada and the U.S., connecting Lake Erie and Lake Ontario
— Niagara River is an integral part of the largest freshwater system on earth: the Great Lakes basin
— Average flow rate of 5,700 cubic metres per second
— Accounts for 83% of the water flowing into Lake Ontario
— Millions of people depend on the river and Lake Ontario for drinking water
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