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New Ontario law encourages local initiatives as part of wide-
ranging strategy to protect lakes

by Tim Anderson ~ November 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
With enactment of the Great Lakes Protection Act in October, Ontario is not only deepening the province’s commitment to the freshwater system, it also is hoping to spur more locally driven projects and initiatives.
Glen Murray, the province’s minister of the environment and climate change, says the new law (Bill 66) is needed to help the lakes “withstand the impacts of the changing climate and keep them drinkable, swimmable and fishable for generations to come.”
To help meet these goals, the minister has been given the authority to set new province-wide “targets” to protect the Great Lakes. And in one area, the minister is required to take action: developing plans to reduce harmful algal blooms. (Under an agreement signed earlier this year with Michigan and Ohio, Ontario has pledged to cut nutrient runoff into western Lake Erie by 40 percent over the next five years.)
New water monitoring and reporting requirements are also part of the new Ontario law. Specifically, the province must assess the impact of climate change on the lakes and track water quality, including the prevalence of harmful pollutants such as microplastics.
Three years ago, the province released a new “Great Lakes Strategy”: a document that lays out priorities and strategies for protecting the lakes.
The 2015 act “enshrines” the idea of having this kind of strategic plan in place, Dave Levac, speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, told fellow Great Lakes Legislative Caucus members in September at their annual meeting in Buffalo.
And not only must this Great Lakes Strategy remain in place, Levac added, it must be updated every six years. He also highlighted the act’s inclusion of a newly formed “Guardians Council”: a forum for Ontario’s local leaders, scientists, and environmental and agricultural leaders to collaborate with one another.
Together, the council will develop priorities for Great Lakes protection and could also help shape the direction of “geographically focused initiatives.”
As envisioned in the Great Lakes Protection Act, these initiatives will be developed and implemented locally (with help from the province) — for example, plans within a single watershed to reduce phosphorus runoff, or within a community to prevent the loss of wetlands, protect beaches or maintain critical habitat.