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Alternatives Journal, Canadiana, Environment, Ontario Politics

Cleaning up the Niagara River

Niagara River © RokaB - Fotolia

Niagara River © RokaB – Fotolia.com

The Niagara River has come a long way since the 1980s. One would still be advised not to drink the water, swim in some of the public beaches or eat the fish you reel in, but the latest report on the remediation plan reveals a river recovering from decades of abuse.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan, first agreed to in 1987, a report from Niagara College engineering professor Anne Michaud outlines the steps taken to improve the river on both sides of the border.

The action plan consists of two separate but connected strategies from the Ontario and New York State governments to clean up the heavily polluted river.

And the results have been impressive. Despite the cautions listed above, since 1987, there has been a 99 per cent reduction in 18 pollutants discharged from Ontario municipal and industrial sources into the river that accounts for 83 per cent of the water flowing into Lake Ontario and supplies millions in the province with drinking water.

The problem of heavy industrial pollutants discharged into the river dates back to the early 20th century when industry and governments saw an opportunity to take advantage of hydroelectricity generated from Niagara Falls. By the time the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was first signed in 1972, signaling the importance of designing a bi-national response to water quality concerns in the lakes, there were more than 700 chemical plants, steel mills, oil refineries and other manufacturers dumping over 250 million gallons of wastewater into the river.

And despite an average flow rate of 5,700 cubic metres per second, 250 million gallons daily is an incredible amount of wastewater for one river to handle, let alone one supplying water to millions of people in the Great Lake states and provinces.

“These discharges have resulted in the current legacy of ecological problems that continue to face the river” more than a century after industry boomed in the area at the turn of the 20th Century, Michaud said in the report.

“While pollutant concentrations in the Niagara River have declined steadily in recent years, the complete removal of pollutants from the surrounding ecosystem will require many more years to achieve,” she said.

The rest of the story can be found online at Alternatives Journal.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


2 thoughts on “Cleaning up the Niagara River

  1. Thanks for the post. We suspect that few people know just how toxin-laden the Niagara is. Everyone should go to their state’s DNR or Department of Fish & Wildlife pages and read about the levels of contaminants in the waters of their home waters. The fish consumption advisories are a good place to start.

    Posted by Barbra & Jack Donachy | December 13, 2012, 9:34 pm

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