Environment Minister Peter Kent takes a sip of water as he speaks to the media.
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
Environment Minister Peter Kent was in Washington, D.C. on Friday to sign an updated Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that has not been amended for 40 years.
Kent applauded the agreement at Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport while on his way to meet with Lisa Jackson, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to sign the new bilateral agreement that replaces the one negotiated in 1972. “The Great Lakes remain a source of high-quality drinking water for one in four Canadians,” Kent said as he awaited his flight. “Today more beaches around the Great Lakes are safe for swimming and other recreational uses.”
He said one of two fish pulled from lakes in the 1980s suffered from tumours or deformities. “Today the average number is one in 50 for the Great Lakes,” Kent said. “That is well below the level associated with environmental degradation.”
He said a big concern now is reducing the number of invasive species. Some U.S. states have already created electronic fences to prevent some of these species from spreading in the Great Lakes. Kent said all vessels entering the Great Lakes undergo ballast checks to curb the spread of polluted water and invasive species.
“As a result no aquatic invasive species attributed to water ballast water discharge has been found in the Great Lakes since 2006,” he said.
The Asian Carp has been detected past the electric barrier on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, about six kms from Lake Michigan. If the fish were to reach the Great Lakes, it would be an ecological disaster, officials said, because they consume enormous amount of food that other fish rely on.
The carp can grow to up to three-feet and weigh 46 kilos, and have quickly taken over U.S. lakes they invaded. They also pose a risk to people, since they jump out of the water when startled, making them a hazard to boaters, anglers and water-skiers.
Kent said his department has provided financial support to 1,400 projects that help and support wildlife habitat and rehabilitation. Ottawa is also rehabilitating 800 kms of riparian stream habitat, creating 3,600 hectare of shoreline habitat and wetlands, restoring 20,000 hectares of forest and planting almost 230,000 trees and shrubs.
Kent said the release of toxic substances in the Great Lakes, including alkyl lead, has been reduced 98% since 1988. He said the release of dioxins, furans and mercury has been reduced by 90%.