250 Thorold Rd., Welland, Ontario L3C 3W2 Phone: 905.788.3135 Fax: 905.788.1121 info@npca.ca

Our-Niagara-River-Public-Meeting_2015Our Niagara River – Open House

The Niagara River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) team will host a public information session about the health and status of the Niagara River Area of Concern, including information about plans to designate the river a site of international importance.

Thursday May 28, 2015
6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Imperial Room
Queen’s Landing Hotel
155 Byron Street
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

The Niagara River RAP is coordinated by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority with the participation of federal, provincial and state governments, municipalities, environmental groups and other project partners.

The Niagara River is one of 43 Area’s of Concern (now 36 with seven fully remediated) in the Great Lakes identified through the 1987 Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Niagara River Remedial Action Plan

Niagara River Remedial Action Plan
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan Stage 2 Update Report – December, 2009 

Please send comments after reviewing document to:

Jocelyn Baker, Project Manager
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan
Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
905-788-3135
jbaker@npca.ca

The Niagara River is an integral part of the largest freshwater system on Earth: the Great Lakes Basin. Famous for its world-renowned waterfalls, the Niagara River connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and carries with it water from lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. The Niagara River is also an international waterway, connecting Canada to the United States along its 58-km length. The Niagara River accounts for 83% of the water flowing into Lake Ontario, which is a source of drinking water for millions of Ontarians. In the Niagara Region alone, approximately 130,000 people rely on Lake Ontario and the Niagara River for their drinking water. Other uses for the Niagara River include fish and wildlife habitat, recreational activities, power generation, and water for industry.

There is a long history of power generation and industrial development along the Niagara River. The advent of hydroelectric power harnessed from Niagara Falls led to the proliferation of chemical industries along the river. By the 1970s, there were approximately 700 chemical plants, steel mills, oil refineries and other industries discharging over 250 million U.S. gallons of wastewater into the Niagara River each day. As pollution levels increased and gained notoriety through well-publicized public health disasters such as Love Canal, pressure mounted from citizens, environmentalists, and politicians to proactively address the severe degradation of the Niagara River.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was first signed in 1972 between Canada and the U.S. to restore and maintain the overall integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem, including water quality.  In 1987, an amendment to the Agreement called for the development and implementation of Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) to restore ecosystem health in 43 identified Areas of Concern (AOCs) located within the Great Lakes Basin. The Niagara River was designated as one of the 43 AOCs, and thus required a Remedial Action Plan. The Niagara River received this designation owing to its degraded water quality, which limits the river’s ability to provide beneficial uses to humans and wildlife. Examples of beneficial uses include recreational uses such as swimming at local beaches, and ecological uses such as fish and wildlife habitat.

The purpose of the Niagara River RAP is to identify significant water quality concerns and take actions to resolve them. An RAP is developed in the following three stages:

  • Stage 1 identifies and assesses use impairments;
  • Stage 2 identifies proposed remedial actions and their method of implementation; and
  • Stage 3 documents evidence the uses have been restored and communicate these results through extensive public engagement.

Once Stages 1 through 3 have been completed and the issues identified in the RAP have been addressed, the Niagara River AOC will be considered remediated or “delisted”. The Niagara River RAP is currently in the third and final stage of the RAP process, with a delisting goal of 2020.

The lead government agencies guiding the development of the Niagara River RAP in Ontario are Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). On April 14, 1999, the NPCA, assumed the role of Coordinator for the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan on behalf of the Province of Ontario and the Federal Government.

Significant progress has been made in the Niagara River AOC since the RAP process was first initiated in 1987. Successes achieved over the past 25+ years include significant improvements in water quality, and the clean-up of contaminated sediments. These successes have contributed volumes of new scientific information to the existing knowledge base and have expanded our understanding of the river and its tributaries. The collaborative efforts of the Niagara River RAP have improved the overall health of the Niagara River and enhanced its ability to support the human and wildlife populations that depend on it.

The successes to date of the Niagara River RAP would not be possible without the cooperation of all government agencies and the active involvement of the public. Strong inter-agency partnerships and community commitment will continue to play an essential role as the Niagara River RAP advances through its third and final stage. It is anticipated that Stage 3 of the Niagara River RAP will be completed in 2020, at which time the AOC will be delisted. Long-term monitoring will continue beyond 2020 to ensure that the environmental health of the Niagara River and its tributaries continues to improve over time.

Addressing the remaining environmental issues facing the Niagara River will require the commitment and cooperation of all levels of governments, with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority fulfilling a vital role as RAP Coordinator.

 

Status of the AOC

The 14 possible beneficial use impairments as outlined in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are evaluated against the delisting criteria. This analysis of the most current data against performance measures is as follows:

 

rap-notimpaired NO LONGER “IMPAIRED”

  • Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
  • Fish tumours & deformities
  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption (just the wildlife component – the fish component continues to be impaired)
rap-impaired CONTINUES TO BE “IMPAIRED”

  • Degradation of benthos (worms and insects that live at the bottom of the river)
  • Beach closings
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Restrictions on fish consumption
rap-furtherassessment “REQUIRES FURTHER ASSESSMENT” TO “IMPAIRED”

  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations (just the degradation of wildlife populations component – resulting in the entire beneficial use impairment now being listed as impaired)
  • Eutrophication (excessive input of nutrient) or undesirable algae (just the unwanted algae component – resulting in the entire beneficial use impairment now being listed as impaired)
rap-furtherassessment CONTINUES TO “REQUIRE FURTHER ASSESSMENT”

  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations

 

What Remains to be Done?

Some of the remaining key actions include:

  1.  Completing assessment of BUI: Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae and identifying scope of further RAP actions.
  2. Restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitat, including unique habitats found rarely in other parts of the Great Lakes basin.
  3. Completing assessment for the beneficial use impairment status for “degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations”.
  4. Completing assessment of Queens Royal Beach and implementing required actions.
  5. Developing and implementing an updated monitoring plan which will help track progress of the Beneficial Use Impairments and ensure that they don’t backslide.

 

Progress Highlights

 

Restoring and Protecting Fish and Wildlife Habitat

Restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitat, including unique habitats rarely found in other parts of the Great Lakes basin, has been a long standing priority of the Niagara River RAP.

The RAP Coordinating Team hosted a Fish and Wildlife Habitat Workshop in March 2011. The purpose of the workshop was to determine what issues remain and what actions need to be completed to address habitat issues associated with poor water quality in the AOC. The goal of RAPs is to restore degraded conditions in an AOC to a comparable level with its surroundings.

Representatives from local environmental agencies and organizations, including some from New York State were invited.  Participants were engaged in a Geographic Information System (GIS) exercise, using data collected through the NPCA’s Natural Areas Inventory.  Landscape analyses for wetland, woodland, and riparian habitats were generated and compared to reference areas outside the AOC.  The result of this analysis confirmed that habitat conditions outside of the AOC were comparable to that within the AOC.  Habitat degradation and fragmentation is still an issue, but the situation in the AOC is not any worse than outside the AOC.  Restoration work will continue through the various agencies and programs but the habitat work of the RAP is nearing completion.

 

Welland River Eutrophication Study – Investigating Nutrient Issues

Determining sources of nutrients causing eutrophication (high nutrients – low oxygen) in the Niagara River and its tributaries has been a priority of the RAP. In order to address this issue as it affects the Welland River, the NPCA coordinated the 3-year Welland River Eutrophication Study (2008-2010) in partnership with the City of Welland, Environment Canada (EC), Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), and the Regional Municipality of Niagara (RMN).

The study involved extensive water quality monitoring to identify sources of nutrients and nutrient loads (amounts). It makes several observations and recommendations that will be considered in an effort to develop a nutrient/phosphorus reduction strategy for the Welland River watershed.

There are already projects and programs in place dealing with high nutrient levels in the Welland River watershed, including:

  • The NPCA’s Water Quality and Habitat Improvement Program, which supports the private landowner through cost share grants, to improve water quality.  Typical projects include fencing to keep livestock out of creeks, manure storages to prevent runoff, windbreaks to prevent soil loss from fields, wetland restoration, and woodland restoration;
  • Regional and municipal infrastructure capital programs that include ongoing sanitary/storm sewer separation in the City of Welland to reduce bypasses at the Water Pollution Control Plant;
  • The City of Welland’s new Official Plan incorporates RAP supported policies for urban stormwater runoff, reduction of combined sewer overflows, etc.

 

The Niagara River Mussel Biomonitoring Program: 1983- 2009

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has monitored the concentrations of contaminants in mussel (Elliptio complanata) tissue and bottom sediments at sites in the Niagara River since 1983.  This monitoring program documents the improving water quality conditions in the Niagara River with respect to concentrations of organic contaminants, including chlorinated benzenes, pesticides, Mirex, and industrial chemicals.  The length of the data set (26 years) and consistency of approach used over time have made the program an instrumental contributor to documenting the effectiveness of remedial actions to address sources of toxic chemicals to the Niagara River.  Results from Canadian sites and 5 U.S. sites published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research show that remedial actions have reduced the magnitude of the contaminant inputs to the river.  The data is supported by contaminant data generated by Ontario and the State of New York that shows decreasing trends for juvenile fish and sport fish, between the 1980s to the present.  The mussel biomonitoring program will continue to be a critical component of the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan.  For further information: http://www.npca.ca or Journal of Great Lakes Research 37. 2011. p.213-225.

 

Queen’s Royal Beach: New Research

There are three public swimming beaches within the Niagara River AOC. The Queen’s Royal Beach in Niagara-on-the-Lake, at the mouth of the Niagara River, is the only one where water quality problems result in frequent beach postings.  It is one of the 26 beaches that Niagara Region Public Health routinely tests for bacterial contamination.  At an all-day technical workshop held during the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative 2011 Annual Meeting and Conference (June 15-17 in Niagara Falls, Ontario), Dr. Tom Edge (Environment Canada) reported that Queen’s Royal Beach has one of the highest levels of water quality impairment in the Niagara Region. Further work is underway to determine the source of the problem, and identify a solution.

For further information: http://www.niagararegion.ca/living/water/beaches/default.aspx

 

Beyond the Niagara River AOC’s Remedial Action Plan

The goal of RAPs is to restore degraded conditions in an Area of Concern to a comparable level with its surroundings. It is important to note that there are other programs in place that will continue to improve and protect water quality and fish and wildlife habitat once the work of a RAP is completed and an AOC has been delisted. In Niagara these programs include:

  • The Lake Ontario and Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plans
  • The Niagara Natural Heritage System project
  • Land use planning under the Provincial Policy Statement, Places to Grow, and Greenbelt Species at Risk legislation
  • Habitat restoration programs supported by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Niagara Restoration Council, Land Care Niagara, Ontario Power Generation, and other private, government, and community organizations

 

Niagara River Repository

A collection of reports and documents about pollution in the Niagara River and the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan was established at the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library in 1991, and is available to the public as reference material.

Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Protocol of 2012

Approved Niagara RAP Reports

The following reports are provided in PDF format.

Niagara River (Ontario) AOC Update 2012
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan Stage 2 Update – September 2011
Welland Eutrophication Study Final Report – March 2011
Welland River Eutrophication Study Final Report Appendices
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan – Stage 2 Update Report – December 2010
Remedial Action Plan Implementation Annex
NPCA Niagara River Remedial Action Plan
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan – Stage 1 Update – Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan – Stage 1 – Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan – Stage 2 Report (1995)
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan – Fact Sheet (English)
Niagara River Remedial Action Plan – Fact Sheet (Français)

Other Studies of Interest

Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan Coordinating Committee. The following documents are provided in PDF format unless otherwise noted.

Niagara River AOC Aquatic Wildlife Status Report -November 24, 2010 (final)
Monitoring metal and persistent organic contaminant trends through time using quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis) collected from the Niagara River (Richman & Somers, 2010)
Niagara River Upstream Downstream Annual Report 2001-02-2004-05
Fish Tumor Assessment Canadian Lower Lakes – March 2010
Fish Tumor study site locations (ms excel)
Monitoring & Assessing Marsh Habitat Health
NRC Fish Population Data Analysis Report
NR Biomonitoring 1983-2009 (Richman et al JGLR, 2011)
The Niagara River Upstream/Downstream Program 1986/87 – 2004/05. Concentrations, Loads and Trends
Niagara River Watershed Fish Community Report 2012

Presentations

The Niagara River Remedial Action Plan: 25 Years of Environmental Restoration (powepoint)
Niagara Community Observatory Policy Brief #14: The Niagara River Remedial Action Plan: 25 Years of Environmental Restoration

Presentations from the RAP Implementation Committee Workshop, Nov. 10, 2010

The following documents are provided in PDF format unless otherwise noted.

NR – Implementation update (McDonnell)
Niagara Heritage – November 2010
Niagara Water Strategy – Update – November 2010
Welland River Eutrophication Study – November 2010
Status of the U.S. Niagara River RAP
Sustainable Niagara
Toxics Management in the Ontario AOC
2011 Combined Sewer Separation Update
Welland Regulator Monitoring Project
State of the Niagara River (powerpoint)
Niagara River Watershed Fish Community Report 2010 (powerpoint)

 

Presentations from the RAP Implementers’ session on February 15, 2012

The following documents are provided in PDF format unless otherwise noted.

AOC Sport Fish Contaminant Update
Status of US AOC 2012
Niagara River Upstream Downstream Annual Report 2001-02-2004-05
Fish Tumor Assessment Canadian Lower Lakes – March 2010

Presentations from the RAP Implementation Committee Workshop, April 10, 2013

The following documents are provided in PDF format unless otherwise noted.

Welland River Walleye
Status of US AOC
RAP Policy Brief and RAP Implementers
NR Biomonitoring
Keeping Course to Delisting
GLWQA Presentation NR
Colonial WaterBirds Niagara
NR AOC larval fish
NPCA WQHIP April 2013  
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