Lake Couchiching. Photo (cc) Robert Snache \ Spirithands.net. One Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund project focused on restoring wetlands adjacent to Lake Couchiching.

In the face of decades of environmental, pollution and development stresses on the shorelines, wetlands, river basins, flora and fauna of the Great Lakes, the government of Ontario realized making a difference in the health of these critical water bodies would require all hands on deck.

Provincial dollars would be needed to help improve the vitality and strengthen protections of lakes Huron, Erie, Ontario and Superior (in addition to the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers and any water basins that drain into the province’s four Great Lakes).

But how to allocate the money?

The province controls the purse strings and keeps an eye on basin-wide areas of concern, but the variety and number of problems facing the Great Lakes are so voluminous that the government cannot tackle them alone.

Nor should they. Realizing they lack a grassroots knowledge of projects big and small that hundreds of local municipalities, conservation agencies, not-for-profits, academic institutions and First Nations groups have about local issues in their neck of the woods, the government opted to reach out.  

Perhaps, taken together, everyone’s cumulative knowledge of their part of the province would be stronger than solutions from the top down. That could have a tremendous impact on improving water quality and species habitat, in addition to untold recreational and economic uses people depend on the Great Lakes for.  

A marriage of provincial dollars and local know-how seemed entirely appropriate to begin tackling such an important and large-scale issue.

On June 6, 2012, Environment Minister Jim Bradley was at a newly redesigned boardwalk on Queen’s Quay in Toronto to announce the introduction of legislation designed to create the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund, a pool of money to be allocated in $25,000 or less increments over several rounds to community groups proposing specific projects to improve the Great Lakes in some small but ultimately significant way.

“Ontario relies on the Great Lakes for our strength and success,” Bradley said at the time. “The [government of former premier Dalton McGuinty] is acting today to protect our lakes and restore them to environmental health.”

The first round of funding under the newly created Guardian Community Fund greenlighted 80 projects to the tune of $1,741,270 in total.

Some program recipients from the first round of funding include:

  • $22,258 to Sir Sanford Fleming College in Lindsay to help raise and release Muskellunge into Lake Simcoe;
  • $25,000 to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to improve stormwater management in the Black Creek watershed;
  • $16,460 to the Rotary Club of Stratford to help stop shoreline erosion along the Avon River;
  • $25,000 to Ontario Streams to continue projects to reintroduce native Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario;
  • $13,389 to the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation to work with local municipalities and elementary schools to improve beaches; and
  • $13,378 to the Chippewas of Rama First Nation to improve wetland habitat adjacent to Lake Couchiching.

While Bill 100, The Great Lakes Protection Act, never made it past first reading and died on the order paper when McGuinty prorogued the House on October 15, 2012, Premier Kathleen Wynne signaled the Great Lakes are a priority for her government in allowing the bill – now Bill 6 – to be reintroduced just six days after opening the legislature on February 19, 2013.

While the bill is currently up for second reading debate at Queen’s Park, Minister Bradley was joined by members of the 9th Pickering Scouts (who received $1,072 to remove garbage from streams in Durham Region) at the Royal Ontario Museum on March 6 to announce that the second round of funding under the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund had officially opened.

“People know what should be fixed on the shorelines of their hometowns,” Bradley said at the ROM. “That is why we are providing grants to community groups and organizations that want to help restore and protect the Great Lakes."

Bradley was joined by new Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti and Ontario’s new Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer in echoing the importance of healthy Great Lakes to the Ontario economy, those who use the waterways for numerous recreational uses and the plant and animal species that call them home.

“The Great Lakes Basin is one of the most ecologically rich regions in North America,” Orazietti said. “These grants encourage hundreds of like-minded people to come together to protect and restore the Basin’s biodiversity, which includes a number of fish and wildlife species and the habitats in which they live."

The second round of funding will remain open until April 26, 2013. Community groups interested in putting a local project in their region forward for funding can find more information on the Guardian Fund here and more information on the application process here.

The comment period on the Great Lakes Protection Act also closes on April 26, 2013. Further information about the act and how to comment is available at the Environmental Registry

Andrew is a freelance environmental writer and reporter based in Toronto with a Masters in Geography from the University of Toronto. When he's not writing he's usually cycling around town, thinking about what to write next. Andrew's posts appear weekly on Thursdays. You can read more of Andrew's stuff at his own blog, The Reeves Report, or follow him on Twitter.

Andrew Reeves is an environmental writer completing a book about Asian carp in North America. He is a contributing editor at Alternatives Journal and This Magazine’s environmental columnist. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights.

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