Lake Erie

Lake Erie, one of our Great Lakes and a provincial and national treasure:

  • supplies more than 11 million people on both sides of the border with drinking water
  • is home to 130 fish species
  • grows Ontario’s economy through tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and has the world’s largest freshwater fisheries

Algal bloom threats

This small but mighty Great Lake is under threat by large algal blooms created by too much phosphorus from:

  • urban stormwater entering waterways
  • sewage treatment plant discharges
  • excess nutrients lost from farmland entering waterways
  • ecological changes from invasive species and climate change

Reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie is the best way to reduce algal blooms, which can be harmful to human health and the environment. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants and animals, scientists agree that too much phosphorus is the reason why we have harmful algal blooms in the lake.

What we’re doing

Our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan includes a commitment to reduce harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and continue to support the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan. This plan includes more than 120 actions to reduce phosphorus loadings and algal blooms, and was developed through extensive consultation and collaboration.

Our goal

We have a clear goal to reduce phosphorus loadings to the western and central basins of Lake Erie by 40 per cent by 2025 – a target set under Ontario's Great Lakes Protection Act to address algal blooms. The Lake Erie Action Plan serves as Ontario’s plan to achieve this target.

Action areas

The Lake Erie Action Plan commits to five categories of action, including:

  • reducing phosphorus loadings
  • ensuring effective policies, programs and legislation
  • improving the knowledge base
  • educating and building awareness
  • strengthening leadership and co-ordination

The specific actions the plan commits to include:

  • limiting loadings from municipal sewage treatment plant discharges and better managing stormwater
  • encouraging effective techniques to keep phosphorus on farmland
  • restoring natural wetlands

The Lake Erie Action Plan builds on our leadership and efforts to improve water quality and public health, including our plan on blue green algal blooms.

Working together, we will reduce phosphorus loading and algal blooms in Lake Erie.

Learn what you can do to prevent and report blue-green algae.

2019 Annual Update

Since launching the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan in February 2018, Ontario and Canada, in collaboration with key partners and sectors, have been making progress in putting the plan into action.

This includes reaffirming our commitment to reduce harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and support the action plan in the government’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan released in November 2018.

Areas where we focused efforts over the last year include establishing an Implementation Team, working with municipalities to better manage wastewater and stormwater impacts, working with agriculture on reducing phosphorus run-off, supporting wetland restoration in the Lake Erie watershed, and continuing to monitor and improve science.

Implementation Team

On January 15, 2019, Ontario and Canada co-hosted the inaugural meeting of the Lake Erie Action Plan Implementation Team, which is responsible for overseeing the successful implementation of the plan. The Implementation Team is responsible for developing workplans; tracking, assessing and evaluating progress; and providing broader engagement opportunities. It is made up of provincial and federal agencies that led the development of the plan, First Nations and Métis communities, and partners who are contributing their own actions to the plan such as Lake Erie conservation authorities, agricultural sector organizations, municipalities and non-governmental organizations. The second meeting was held on May 23, 2019, and the Implementation Team plans to meet again in the fall to continue to drive action.

Managing wastewater and stormwater impacts

We are continuing our work with municipalities in the Lake Erie basin to improve wastewater effluent quality and reduce phosphorus loadings through efforts such as optimization of wastewater treatment plants, and promotion of green infrastructure/low-impact development to improve stormwater management.

On-farm nutrient management

Effective management of nutrients such as manure and commercial fertilizer, water and soil will keep phosphorus on farmland and out of waterways. This is a critical part of the Lake Erie Action Plan that requires collaboration between government, agriculture and partners.

The governments of Canada and Ontario are building leadership, driving action and measuring progress through the federal-provincial-territorial Canadian Agricultural Partnership, collaborating with the agri-food sector to promote and implement Best Management Practices, under which Canada and Ontario have agreed to allocate up to $61.2 million over five years (2018 to 2023) to address a range of environmental stewardship and climate change priorities.

For Ontario, this means:

  • Providing financial support for the implementation of Best Management Practices. This includes regionally targeted programming in the Lake Erie basin via the Lake Erie Agriculture Demonstrating Sustainability.
  • Providing financial support to agri-food sector organizations and collaboration projects supporting water quality and soil health outcomes. Many Lake Erie Action Plan partners have been successful in receiving funding for research, planning, and outreach projects supporting Lake Erie environmental stewardship outcomes.

Ontario also continues to work collaboratively with the agricultural sector on a number of industry-led initiatives to reduce phosphorus loss from agricultural sources in the Lake Erie basin, including:

  • The voluntary 4R Nutrient Stewardship program, which encourages producers to use the right source of nutrients at the right rate and the right time in the right place.
  • The Ontario Greenhouse Environmental Strategy working group to support compliance efforts.
  • The implementation of the Ontario Cover Crops Strategy to encourage the widespread adoption of cover crops to protect and improve soil health.
  • The Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative partnership that promotes a suite of effective land management and drainage solutions.
  • The Timing Matters peer-to-peer advisory committee that provides education and awareness to producers about the risks of nutrient application on frozen or snow-covered ground.
  • A focus on proper field tile drain installation during contractor training and communications to minimize phosphorus movement to waterways.

In April 2018, Ontario released the New Horizons: Ontario’s Agricultural Soil and Conservation Strategy to help sustain and enhance soil health and productivity for economic, environmental and societal needs, which includes water quality.

In addition, Ontario continues to support research and innovation through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, the province’s agreement with the University of Guelph, which supports development of knowledge and technology to enable nutrient loss reduction from fields and improve soil health which will help to improve water quality in streams and groundwater.

Natural heritage

Ontario, in partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada, is supporting wetland research to increase our level of understanding of the role that restored wetlands play in capturing and processing non‐point source phosphorus such as farm runoff. A detailed standardized wetland monitoring protocol is being developed that will be applied to restored wetland basins in southwestern Ontario over a three-year period to assess phosphorus removal efficiency of these systems. The data will be used to develop a predictive model that will allow resource managers to estimate the phosphorus mitigation and water quality benefits of new and restored wetlands.

Also in partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada, Ontario is working with community partners to develop wetland restoration projects in the Lake Erie basin that either restore lost wetland features or enhance those negatively impacted by competing land use pressures. To date, Ontario has invested $1.8 million in this initiative, with efforts being focused on improving the number and quality of wetlands in the priority areas identified in the Lake Erie Action Plan.

Monitoring and improved science

The development of an adaptive management framework based on monitoring and improved science is a key element of the action plan. For instance, Ontario is leading a Multi-Watershed Nutrient Study to examine how agricultural land management and landscape features relate to phosphorus loadings from Lake Erie watersheds and how these relationships may have changed since the late 1970s. Ontario is also assessing water quality and harmful algal blooms in Lake St. Clair and the Thames River.

As part of its work to restore Lake Erie, Ontario is studying the impacts of phosphorus-driven algal blooms on fish recruitment, foodweb structure and dynamics, and ecosystems of the lake. The research focuses on how phosphorus-driven algal blooms change the phytoplankton community; and how such changes exert impacts on species of higher trophic levels and foodweb structures, focusing on fish recruitment and energy/matter flow within entire food web of Lake Erie. The results will support improved understanding of the dynamics of major commercially important species (e.g., walleye, yellow perch, etc.), and can also be used to predict impacts of algal blooms caused by excessive phosphorus loadings on fish and fisheries in Lake Erie.

Further details about progress in reducing phosphorus loads to Lake Erie will be available in the 2019 Progress Report of the Parties under the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement which is expected to be released in June 2019.