Potential status change signifies improving conditions along Niagara River

From Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Niagara River is a special place for Natalie Green.

Green, the manager of climate change and special programs for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), has been involved with work on other connecting waterways in her career, but there’s something unique about the river that empties water out of Lake Erie, over the majestic Horseshoe Falls and eventually into Lake Ontario.

“I’ve gone from Fort Erie all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and everything in between as much as I can,” she said.

Now, thanks to the hard work and patience of many individuals, organizations and officials, the NPCA is nearly ready to check off one more box marking the remediation of the area.

But before they submit a report to the provincial and federal governments recommending an official change to the status regarding fish and colonial wild bird populations, NPCA researchers are seeking the public’s input.

Fort Erie residents, especially those who live near the river or who have a connection with the Niagara River, are encouraged to offer their feedback on, and attend a webinar regarding the proposed changes.

“We want people to know about it, we want them to be informed and we want them to provide some feedback,” Green said.

Feedback from people across Niagara is welcomed.

Officially, the change would see the degradation of fish and wildlife populations move to “not impaired.” That may not sound terribly exciting, but it’s the culmination of decades of hard work, Green said.

“It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of hard work. And a lot of different types of work,” she said.

Back in the 1980s the Niagara River was listed as one of 43 areas of concern among the Great Lakes. Years of dumping and pollution had left it in poor shape. But work had already begun, with Green saying pollution problems were noted in the river as far back as the mid-20th century.

The Niagara River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) includes 14 criteria. Getting the fish and wildlife populations status changed would leave only three left to address, though Green said those remaining are major undertakings.

Nevertheless, the potential change for the fish and wildlife populations status is an achievement.

“It does feel good to get to this point but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “It’s one more indicator showing that the river is becoming more healthy.”

Green said new regulations on dumping as well as new fishing regulations, habitat restoration and improved water treatment processing are among the key factors that has improved fish and bird health in the area. The banning of DDT and PCBs were huge turning points.

“The environment takes a lot of time to recover from this kind of damage and this is a century in the making,” Green said.

Feedback from the public is an important step in the process, before Green and her team can present their recommendation to provincial and federal governments.

Green said many locals in Fort Erie might have insights and observations beyond what even the researchers have managed to uncover. For instance, while it’s outside the scope of this project, Green said residents have noted the return of bald eagles to the area in recent years.

The NPCA’s webinar on the proposed status change takes place on Tuesday, May 14. Registration is required, but will remain open up to the day of the webinar. It begins at 7 p.m. and will include scientists who can answer questions from participants.

A brief survey is also open and Green encourages residents to fill it out before the closing date at the end of the month.

For more information, to register for the webinar, or to fill out the survey, visit getinvolved.npca.ca.

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