As part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), Canada and the United States are committed to:
“… contribute to the achievement of the General and Specific Objectives of this Agreement by restoring beneficial uses that have become impaired due to local conditions at Areas of Concern (AOCs), through the development and implementation of Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) for each AOC designated pursuant to this Agreement.”
What is an Area of Concern (AOC)?
An AOC is a geographic area on the Great Lakes where water quality and ecosystem health have been severely degraded by local development use or other activities. This degradation causes a significant impairment of beneficial uses and relationships with local water. Impairment of beneficial use is caused by unfavourable changes to the chemical, biological, or physical makeup of the water. 14 specific problems (beneficial use impairments) are closely monitored in each AOC and are indicators of the health of the water.
Within the GLWQA, there are 43 AOCs in total. 12 of which are located in Canada, 26 in the United States, and 5 binational AOCs that are shared by the two countries. To remediate the damage in each AOC, government, community, and industry partners are undertaking Remedial Action Plans to restore environmental health in their local areas.
Hamilton's Industrial Past
For more than 100 years Hamilton has been exposed to industrial and urban development. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Great Western Railway was founded in the city, making Hamilton the centre of Canadian industry. Hamilton’s industrial past has come at a price, namely, environmental degradation of surrounding ecosystems, in particular Hamilton Harbour.
Prior to modern pollution laws, waste was dumped into the Harbour by industries, which today, continue to threaten public health, contaminate fish and wildlife, and restrict the use of the waterfront. Over the past century, sediment contaminated by metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other hazardous chemicals has been released into the environment.
Damage done to Hamilton Harbour through industrial development and population growth has resulted in the area's designation as an “Area of Concern” (AOC). As a source for social, economic, and ecological progress, significant work has been done to remediate the Harbour and delist it as an AOC.
What is a Remedial Action Plan (RAP)?
Work on defining the “State of the Harbour” was first initiated in 1985, a “Remedial Action Plan
” followed in 1992, and delisting is anticipated in 2020. The “Remedial Action Plan” (RAP) is a plan to delist Hamilton Harbour from the list of 43 AOCs. Hamilton Harbour was designated as an AOC in 1987 under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
(GLWQA). This agreement promotes bi-national consultation and cooperative action to restore, protect, and enhance the water quality of the Great Lakes Basin. Through collaboration, Canada and the United States work towards AOC remediation in a spirit of friendship and cooperation.
The GLWQA recognizes the importance of the Great Lakes to the social, economic, and environmental livelihood of both countries. More so, the Great Lakes Area has significant population density, raising concern about the risks to public health. In order to address issues facing the Great Lakes, the partners work to find solutions to past damages and limit future threats to the waterways. By acknowledging the entirety of the ecosystem (the land, water, and living organisms- including humans) management actions can be undertaken sustainably.
The interconnectedness of the Great Lakes system and the links to other waterways, such as the St. Lawrence River, requires cooperation between the countries that share these waterways. Restoring the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes promotes a healthy region for present and future generations of Canadians and Americans.
What are the Stages of the Remedial Action Plan?
Each Area of Concern is required to develop and implement a Remedial Action Plan divided into three stages. The stages for the Hamilton Harbour RAP are as follows:
1. Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition: This stage outlines the starting point for the Area of Concern. The current “state of the Harbour” must be identified in order to determine the appropriate remedial actions.
2. Goals, Options, and Recommendations: This stage defines the remedial actions to clean up the Area Of Concern.
3. Evaluation of Remediation Measures and Confirmation of Restoration of Uses: This is the stage where the designation of an Area of Concern is removed when a set of environmental conditions has been met. For Hamilton Harbour, this final “delisting” step is targeted to occur in 2020.