Toronto and Region is one of 40 locations around the Great Lakes where local environmental degradation may be causing harm to the wider Great Lakes system. These locations, referred to as Areas of Concern (AOCs), are located in Canada (15 sites), the United States (25 sites), and in some cases are shared between the two countries (5 sites).
Areas of Concern were formally recognized by the governments of Canada and the United States in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) amendments of 1987 (GLWQA Annex 2). This Agreement committed the governments of each country to clean up Areas of Concern within their respective jurisdictions.
The clean-up, or remediation, of an Area of Concern occurs through a mandated process called a Remedial Action Plan, or RAP. An individualized RAP is required for each Area of Concern, and an Area of Concern cannot be considered remediated until all stages of the RAP have been completed and documented. The RAP documentation process occurs at the end of each of the three stages:
Stage 1: Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition
Stage 2: Goals, Options, and Recommendations
Stage 3: Evaluation of Remedial Measures and Confirmation of Restoration of Uses
The status of an Area of Concern (AOC) is determined by assessing the state of local environmental conditions against fourteen different Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs), as identified in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Annex 2, 1987). Each Beneficial Use Impairment describes a human or ecological use of the ecosystem that has been lost or impaired as the result of environmental degradation; an AOC is therefore considered impaired when local conditions meet the descriptions of one or more BUIs. Two examples of Beneficial Use Impairments are the closing of beaches for swimming and the appearance of deformities in wildlife. A complete list of Beneficial Use Impairments can be found here.
In Ontario, the responsibilities for RAP progress and Area of Concern remediation are shared by the federal and provincial governments through the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem, or COA. The administration and implementation of a RAP, however, includes a variety of departments at all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, academia, business and industry, and the public. A local RAP team tracks environmental conditions, activities, and outcomes relevant to the RAP.
The Toronto and Region Area of Concern consists of six watersheds stretching from the Rouge River in the east to Etobicoke Creek in the west (map). This area encompasses 2000 km2 of land, 42km of waterfront, eleven municipal jurisdictions, and over 4 million residents.
The Toronto and Region Area of Concern is currently deemed to have eight beneficial use impairments, three beneficial uses that are not impaired, and three beneficial uses that require further assessment. A listing of the beneficial use impairments and the status of Toronto and Region against each can be found here. A summary of the underlying causes for impairment and issues faced by the Toronto and Region AOC can be found here.
Stage I of the formal Toronto and Region Remedial Action Plan was initiated in 1987, and the Stage I report Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition was released in 1989.
The Toronto and Region RAP Principles and Goals (the criteria for removing Toronto and Region from the list of AOCs) were provided in the Stage 2 report Clean Waters, Clear Choices (1994).
Toronto and Region is currently in Stage 3 (implementation) of the RAP process. Two major interim reports, Clean Waters, Healthy Habitats (2001) and Moving Forward (2007, released 2009), have been issued that detail environmental monitoring results, achievements in remediation initiatives, as well as how conditions in Toronto and Region's compare against the Beneficial Use Impairment criteria. A full listing of available Toronto and Region RAP updates is available here.
Although the challenges are many, the Toronto and Region RAP team believes the Toronto and Region could, with the requisite government investment, be in a position to prepare the Stage 3 RAP report and seek delisting as an Area of Concern by 2020.