Friday, 15 June 2012

Great Lakes, Great Responsibility

By Don Pearson, General Manager, Conservation Ontario

Environment Minister Jim Bradley chose an appropriate setting on June 6 to announce a significant piece of legislation, the Great Lakes Protection Act.   On the shores of Lake Ontario, and surrounded by an enthusiastic cast of stakeholders, including agencies, environmental organizations, politicians and a host of elementary school children he introduced an Act, Strategy, and even an incentive program to protect the Great Lakes which has been a long-standing commitment by the Liberal Government and was an important feature of the government’s election campaign last fall.
At first blush, this kind of legislation seems to be a no-brainer; after all, the Great Lakes virtually define the boundary of the part of Ontario that is home to 90% of its population, the majority of whom get their drinking water directly from the Great Lakes!  Collectively, the lakes contain about 20% of earth’s fresh water, yet we treat them like a waste disposal.  All of our treated sewage waste from municipal systems, and all of our runoff from rainfall and storm events, eventually winds up in the lakes, some of it directly via pipeline (oops, I almost typed “poopline”), and the rest indirectly as it languishes in rivers like the Grand and the Thames before lending its enrichment to the “beautiful waters” that in the Iroquoian language are called “Ontario.”
The Great Lakes Strategy is an excellent document that describes what has happened to the lakes, how they are doing at the present time, and what we need to do to address existing and future challenges.  The Strategy should be read by every person living within the Great Lakes basin. 
I suggest that reading this document should not enable us to bask in the glow of pride and good fortune that we are so blessed to live in a province that has such an abundance of fresh water, but should help us realize the tremendous duty that this places on each and every one of us.  We need to understand the impact of our daily behaviour on these “beautiful waters” and take responsibility for ensuring that they remain a legacy for future generations to enjoy and to depend upon, the way that we have been able to do while taking them for granted.
Perhaps a greater awareness of the importance of the Great Lakes and their related natural areas by citizens, politicians, and others will encourage us to re-evaluate decisions such as the recent one involving development in a provincially significant wetland in the Niagara Region (City of Welland), which was recently dismissed in provincial court.  According to media reports, the Justice determined that the subject property was not a wetland even though the Ministry of Natural Resources had determined that it was in fact within a provincially significant wetland complex.  If we as a society don’t learn to connect the dots, and realize that we bear the full consequences of our behaviour (we reap what we sow), we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, and won’t begin to address the real issues until it is much too late. 
It is time we mature as a society and begin to create the kind of environment that we want to live in and want to leave for the children of Ontario.

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