Citizens Environment Alliance
CEA homepage Donate Online Membership Online Membership Online Join Us on Facebook

Water Issues

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements Ontario Water Conservation Water Opportunities and
Water Conservation Act
Great Lakes Protection Act
Registry of Lands CEA Submissions Detroit River Reports and Documents Detroit River Facts/Fact Sheet
An Aerial View of the Detroit River
An Aerial View of the Detroit River

Public preoccupation about growing pollution in the waters of the Great Lakes led to the 1972 signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada. The original Agreement was intended to diminish phosphorus levels that had caused problems in Lake Erie, which had become known as the "dead Lake".

The Agreement was amended in 1978 to deal with the more insidious problem of toxic contaminants in the Great Lakes. These contaminants were unlike the earlier phosphorus problems in that they could not be detected by sight, smell, or taste. The amended Agreement was an attempt by both countries to approach water quality issues, and the entire Great Lakes ecosystem, in a more comprehensive manner.

With insufficient efforts by both the U.S. and Canada to deal with the enormity of the environmental problems in the Great Lakes Basin, much work remains. The International Joint Commission (IJC) identified 43 Areas of Concern (AOC) throughout the Great Lakes Basin. The Detroit River is one of five binational Areas of Concern.

In 1985, the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the IJC called for Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) to clean up the Areas of Concern. The Citizens Environment Alliance has participated in the Detroit River RAP since its inception in 1987. Our commitment to ensuring public participation in the RAP process through the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee means that we will continue to press for a comprehensive cleanup and protection plan for the Detroit River.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) and its subsequent protocols established ambitious goals for the clean up of the Great Lakes basin. The zero discharge of persistent toxic substances, the remediation of contaminated sediments and a bi-national toxic management strategy, cornerstones of the agreement, have seen little meaningful progress.

The Detroit River remains one of the most heavily polluted waterways in the Great Lakes basin. People on both sides of the river must continue to insist that all levels of government and industry work with the public towards the principles of the GLWQA.

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements

U.S. - Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

A new Great Lakes Water Quality agreement between Canada and the U.S. was signed on Sept. 7, 2012. Read the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The Citizens Environment Alliance (CEA) is concerned with omissions in the new agreement and a lack of capacity at the federal level to implement the Agreement.

The CEA and other leading environmental organizations have submitted comments and recommendations in response to Canadian & U.S. negotiators consultation on the renegotiation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Read the following documents to find out more.

Great Lakes Groups send letter to IJC Regarding Great Lakes Water Quality Board and other Boards, Feb 8, 2013

Great Lakes Groups Call on Canadian and United States Federal Legislators to Ensure Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Will Protect Lakes, February 27, 2012

ENGO GLWQA Comments September 20, 2011

Comments from Environmental Groups on Proposed U.S. Positions for Updates to the Agreement, February 4, 2011

ENGO Joint Submission on GLWQA Governance and Specific Issues

CEA Concerned About Insufficient Public Participation in GLWQA Renegotiations Process

ENGO Letter of Concern

ENGO Preliminary Comments and Recommendations


New Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health

The CEA in collaboration with Environmental Defence and other environmental groups have submitted comments to the Ontario and Canadian governments regarding the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health (COA). COA sets the stage for the governments to cooperate to ensure the restoration, protection and conservation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin over the next five years. Here is our response to the proposed COA: View submission.

Ontario Water Conservation

The following is part of the CEA's campaign for water conservation, including:

the Ontario Water Conservation Alliance.

The CEA submission, in collaboration with other groups, regarding the Proposed Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act.

Proposed Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act Update

The full transcript of October's clause by clause consideration of bill 72 is now available on the Committee website: committee transcripts bill 72

Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act (2010)

The Ministry of the Environment would like to notify you of the proposed Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act (2010).

For additional information on the proposed legislation, please visit the Ministry of the Environment's website at: or the Environmental Bill of Rights website at: registry number 010-9940.

The proposed Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act, 2010 will be informed by various opportunities for input through the legislative process. Please visit the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website at: for further details. The Bill will appear on this link shortly after introduction.

Great Lakes Protection Act

Ontario finally passes Great Lakes Protection Act

After many years of effort by individuals and organizations across Ontario, including the CEA, the Great Lakes Protection Act was passed in the Ontario legislature earlier this month. The Act adds legal protections to the most significant freshwater ecosystem on the planet and takes a significant step towards fulfilling the recommendations made in Ontario's Great Lakes Strategy

The Great Lakes Protection Alliance has submitted comments regarding Bill 6, the (Ontario) Great Lakes Protection Act. This submission is supported by many of Ontario's leading environmental organizations including the CEA.

Read Detailed prioritized recommendations regarding amendments to Bill 6 (proposed Great Lakes Protection Act) Submission to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills.

Read Detailed Prioritized Amendments to Bill 6 - Supplemental Submissions

We need a Great Lakes Protection Act to re-engage Ontarians with their Great Lakes, a source of drinking water, recreation, history and prosperity. We must increase the ecological resilience of the Great Lakes to improve their health and the health of the region's people. Read full release.

Comments on the Great Lakes Protection Act
Comments on the Great Lakes Draft Strategy

Ontario Releases Great Lakes Strategy

Upon its release December 17, 2012, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment states:

This strategy responds to what we heard from people across Ontario. We have heard about the need to protect shorelines, beaches and wetlands, reduce impacts of sewage and runoff, tackle algae problems and provide opportunities for people to clean up their corner of the Great Lakes.

Read:   Ontario's Great Lakes Strategy  Great Lakes Protection Act 2012

Humbug Marsh

Federal and Provincial Governments Should Create a Registry of Canadian Lands for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

December 21, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. North Americaís only international wildlife refuge provides a unique opportunity for the region of southwestern Ontario and southeast Michigan to help protect our natural capital and environment, sustain our economy, sustain our quality of life, and enhance community pride. In order to be consistent with the Conservation Vision endorsed by Canada in 2001, Canada needs to establish a registry of lands. Read the full press release

CEA Submissions

A Blueprint for a Comprehensive Water Conservation Strategy (October 2009)

Elements to be Considered for Inclusion in the Essex Region Source Protection Area Terms of Reference (June 2008)

Detroit River Reports and Documents

Regulating Water Pollution at the Municipal Level (2006 revised/ 2004)

A Citizenís Guide to the International Joint Commission Draft Detroit River Area of Concern Status Assessment (November 2002 revised / June 1997)

Report to the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee on the Restoration of the Detroit River Area of Concern (June 2001)

Rehabilitating and Conserving Detroit River Habitats - A Binational Conference (1998)

10 Actions that will Address the Environmental Problems in the Detroit River Area of Concern (November 1996)

A Citizen's Guide to the Detroit River Remedial Action Plan (Spring 1991)

Boat Tour
Boat Tour

Detroit River Facts

  • The Detroit Sewage Treatment Plant is the largest discharger in the Great Lakes basin, processing between 700 million and 1 billion gallons of municipal and industrial waste water every day.
  • "It has taken several years of compilation and examination of these diverse studies to get an overall picture of the present status. The amount of mercury currently being discharged to the Detroit River is increasing, not decreasing," -USEPA, 1999
  • Since 1850, approximately 96% of Essex region's original wetland area and 95% of the original forest area have been lost as the result of forest clearing and wetland drainage for agriculture and urban development. In the United States, 97% of the coastal wetlands on the U.S. mainland of the Detroit River have been lost to development since European colonization.
  • "Many areas of the riverbed are so toxic one science technician burned his hands scooping up a handful of sediment in the area near the Great Lakes Steel plant, downstream from the Rouge River." -Windsor Star, September 2001
  • "The Detroit River-Lake St. Clair ecosystem is one of a handful of areas in the Great Lakes with an exceptional variety of plants, fish, birds and the habitats to support them. At least 29 species of waterfowl and 65 kinds of fish make their home in and along the Detroit River. We must do everything possible to protect our unique biological features and our natural capital. Public support is needed for the remedial action plans for the Detroit and St. Clair rivers and for a Lake St. Clair watershed management process. Not only should we be proud of the international recognition for the wealth of biodiversity in the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, we must do more to demonstrate our stewardship for this wonderful place we call home." -John H. Hartig, River Navigator, Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative

An Aerial View of the Detroit River

Detroit River/ Fresh Water Fact Sheet

View the PDF to learn about water quality (bottle vs. tap), the Great Lakes, the Detroit River, general water facts and water conservation tips. Don't forget to check out the bottom of page 2 for links to a variety of water-related web links.