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St. Clair River Area of Concern
The St. Clair River Area of Concern stretches from the Blue Water Bridge to the north shore of Mitchell’s Bay on Lake St. Clair and includes the immediate drainage basin of the St. Clair River. This area is one of 43 Areas of Concern the International Joint Commission has identified within the Great Lakes basin where there are known environmental problems. In each area, local partners are working together to implement Remedial Action Plans so the area can be rehabilitated and removed from the list of Areas of Concern. The Conservation Authority is playing an important role in this plan by coordinating and managing projects. Delisting the St. Clair River as an Area of Concern under the Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is the ultimate goal of Ontario, Canada, and all local partners.
Road to Recovery
The Canadian RAP Implementation Committee continues to work towards the removal of water-use impairments from the original list of problems. The decision to re-designate Beneficial Use Impairments to “Not Impaired” status is reached through consensus with the Remedial Action Plan partners, and is endorsed by the St. Clair River Binational Public Advisory Council, First Nations, and government agencies.
A draft status assessment of the “Degradation of Aesthetics” and “Restrictions on Dredging Activities” Beneficial Use Impairments both have been completed this past year and found to be “Not Impaired.” The “Degradation of Aesthetics” Beneficial Use Impairment was assessed by circulating surveys to water users in the community, conducting three years of aesthetic monitoring at eight sites along the St. Clair River shoreline and quantitatively rating each site using an Aesthetic Quality Index. The “Restrictions on Dredging Activities” assessment evaluated sediment data from dredging projects since the year 2000 along with past and present methods of dredged material disposal. Public and First Nation consultation is ongoing on these draft assessment reports to get input before a decision to re-designate them is made in 2014.
Results from recent field studies on “bird and animal deformities or reproduction problems” and “beach closings” are promising. Assessment reports will be prepared on these Beneficial Use Impairments in 2014-15 for subsequent consultation.
Contaminated Sediment Management
Contaminated sediments at three priority areas in the St. Clair River contain elevated levels of mercury and methyl mercury. Mercury was used in historical industrial processes. While these contaminated areas do not pose an immediate health risk to humans, the contaminants biomagnify in fish (such as pike) that humans eat. Biomagnification is the process through which chemicals build up in animals as predators eat smaller contaminated creatures.
A local multi-partner technical team has been studying ways to manage the contaminated sediment since 2009. Three management options were developed and extensive public and First Nation consultation was completed in early 2013. In total, over ten open houses or meetings were held regarding the sediment management project for the St. Clair River. These meetings and open houses provided partners, the public, and First Nation communities the opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and provide preferences on remedial options.
A consensus was reached through the consultation process that dredging the contaminated sediment was the preferred option. This result was submitted to the federal and provincial governments in 2013 for their consideration and for funding. The governments are actively considering the dredging proposal. Detailed engineering and environmental assessments are the next steps in the process. The target date for completion of the clean-up is 2016-17.