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Great Lakes Success Stories

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement has a 40-year legacy of success. Since its original signing in 1972, progress has been made on a variety of fronts within the ecosystem. Through our joint efforts with our partners, the Great Lakes remain a source of high quality drinking water for the one in four Canadians who rely on them. Today, more beaches around the Great Lakes are safe for swimming and other recreational uses, more often, than at any other time in recent decades. Other important achievements include:

Cleaning Up Areas of Concern

  • Since 2000, we have supported more than 800 projects in areas of concern. An area of concern is an area of significant environmental degradation in the Great Lakes. These projects have enabled local citizens to clean up urban stormwater and wastewater, rural and agricultural runoff, and contaminated sediments, and restore degraded habitat and species.
  • Each area of concern has a remedial action plan that defines the nature, extent, and causes of environmental problems and recommends actions to restore and protect the environment. 
  • Of the 17 Canadian and binational areas of concern originally listed, three have been removed from the list after having achieved the goals identified in their respective remedial action plans. 
  • Areas of concern at Severn Sound and Collingwood Harbour on Georgian Bay (Lake Huron), and Wheatley Harbour on Lake Erie have been cleaned up and delisted. Delisting occurs once we have confirmed that all goals identified in the remedial action plan have been achieved and the environment has been restored.
  • All actions needed to remediate two areas of concern and redesignate these locations as areas in recovery have been completed in Spanish Harbour on Lake Huron and Jackfish Bay on Lake Superior.
  • An area in recovery is an area where all actions have been completed but time is needed for the ecosystem to recover.
  • All remedial actions in the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall area of concern have been completed.
  • In the next five years, all actions needed to clean-up and delist areas of concern at Nipigon Bay and Peninsula Harbour on Lake Superior, St. Lawrence River at Cornwall, Niagara River, and the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario will be completed.
  • Remedial actions in all Canadian areas of concern designated pursuant to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are expected to be completed within the next 10-15 years.
  • Contaminated sediment clean-up projects have been completed in Thunder Bay on Lake Superior and within the St. Clair, Detroit and Niagara Rivers. Another sediment remediation project at Marathon on Lake Superior is slated for completion in 2012. 

Reducing Toxic Substances

  • The use and release of persistent toxic substances into the Great Lakes has been reduced. Since 1988, the release of alkyl lead has been reduced by 98 percent; the release of dioxins and furans has been reduced by 90 percent; the release of mercury has been reduced by 90 percent; and the use of PCBs has been reduced by 89 percent.
  • Reduction in the release of toxic substances into the Great Lakes has resulted in populations of sentinel species such as the sturgeon, bald eagle and osprey reestablishing around the Great Lakes.
  • The occurrence of deformities, tumours and reproductive problems in fish and wildlife has been significantly reduced. During the 1980s, some Great Lakes communities saw one in every two fish sampled exhibiting tumours caused by high levels of harmful pollutants. Today, the average number is one in 50 for the Great Lakes, which is well below the level associated with environmental degradation. 

Reducing Aquatic Invasive Species

  • All vessels arriving into the Great Lakes from outside Canada receive ballast management exams on each St. Lawrence Seaway transit. As a result, no aquatic invasive species attributed to vessel ballast water discharge has been found in the Great Lakes since 2006. 
  • After the zebra mussel was first discovered in Lake St. Clair, Canada introduced the world’s first preventive measures targeting ballast water from international ships. The ballast exchange requirements for the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes came into effect in 1989. In 1993, the United States followed Canada's lead. 
  • Through sustained efforts, Canada and the United States have reduced the populations of sea lamprey in the lakes by 90 percent, and have stopped any further spread of this invasive species that was once the blight of Great Lakes fisheries.

Wildlife Habitat Rehabilitation

  • Environment Canada has provided financial support to approximately 1,400 projects that have helped to support wildlife habitat rehabilitation. Examples of projects include:
    • rehabilitating 800 kilometres of riparian stream habitat;
    • restoring or creating more than 3,600 hectares of shoreline habitat and wetlands;
    • protecting or restoring more than 20,000 hectares of forest and prairie/meadow habitat, including planting almost 230,000 trees and shrubs.
  • Since 1994, we have secured almost 40,000 hectares of wetlands around the Great Lakes Basin.
  • We have further protected unique habitats by creating new national parks around the Great Lakes, including the Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. We are working to establish the Lake Superior Marine Conservation Area, which—at over 10,000 km2—will be the largest freshwater protected area in the world.

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