Canada Target 10

By 2020, pollution levels in Canadian waters, including Goal Bpollution from excess nutrients, are reduced or maintained at levels that support healthy aquatic ecosystems.


About the Target

Water quality varies widely across Canada because of the country's diverse geography and the different ways in which people have developed the land around rivers and lakes and on the coast. Surface and ground water in Canada is generally clean, however, there are important local or regional pollution issues including eutrophication in major freshwater ecosystems and long-term drinking-water advisories for Indigenous communities. Water quality is important for the maintenance of healthy lake, river and marine ecosystems. Clean water provides essential habitat for aquatic plants and animals, is necessary for human survival, supports many commercial and industrial uses and is at the heart of many recreational activities. Pollution enters water bodies in a number of ways, including industrial and municipal discharge, runoff, spills, and deposition of airborne pollutants.

Certain nutrients are important for aquatic ecosystem health, but can become pollutants at elevated levels. Phosphorus, for example, is a crucial nutrient for growth of plants and algae and a key regulator of the overall productivity of inland aquatic ecosystems and coastal watersheds, but elevated levels can be harmful to the health of freshwater ecosystems, negatively impacting fish and other wildlife, drinking water quality, swimming safety and the visual appearance of lakes. Lakes and rivers that are phosphorus-enriched often have excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae, leading to low-oxygen conditions when this growth decays. This can occur when artificial or natural substances, such as nitrates and phosphates are added to an aquatic system from sources such as detergents and fertilizers. Severe algal blooms including blooms of cyanobacteria have been occurring recently in Lake Winnipeg, Lake Simcoe, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and in other Canadian water bodies.

There is a need to act now, as there may be a significant lag between improved practices and reduced eutrophication due to the potential for soils to store phosphorous and other potential pollutants for decades. In addition to ensuring the conditions required to support aquatic biodiversity, protecting Canada's water sources from excess pollutants is necessary to provide the essential ecosystem services that people depend on, particularly clean safe water for personal use as well as for many aspects of Canada’s social and economic activity.

Canada Target 10 is linked with the following global Aichi target under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020:

  • Aichi Target 8 - By 2020, pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.


2018 Interim Progress Assessment

On track to meeting target at an insufficient rate icon​Canada is making progress but at an insufficient rate to meet Canada Target 10 by 2020. At the national level, Canada tracks changes in water quality using a variety of indicators. An assessment of the national freshwater quality indicator shows that over 80% of sites across the country are within fair-good-excellent categories. Changes in freshwater quality were not detected for most sites, while improving quality was found for 10% of sites and roughly the same or more were deteriorating.

Similar outcomes are found regionally. One particular area of focus related to Target 10 is phosphorus levels in the Great Lakes, as well as in the St. Lawrence River. In the Great Lakes, progress has been mixed: phosphorus levels in Lake Erie are too high but decreasing; in Lake Superior the levels are good and stable; while in Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay, phosphorus levels are too low and depleting. Levels of both phosphorous and nitrogen in the St. Lawrence River are mostly too high.

Canada is making major investments in regional and national programs in order to support restoration and water quality, particularly in the Great Lakes. For example, the Great Lakes Protection Initiative received an additional $44.84 million through Budget 2017, while the federal government and the provincial government of Ontario recently developed a joint Domestic Action Plan to reduce phosphorus loads in Lake Erie.

The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is an important binational framework to restore, protect and conserve water quality and ecosystem health in the shared Great Lakes water basin. Through the Agreement, Canada and the U.S. have agreed to cooperative and coordinated action on key environmental challenges of shared concern. For example, in 2016, Canada and the U.S. established targets to reduce the loading of phosphorus into Lake Erie and committed to developing domestic action plans to achieve these targets by 2018. The two countries are working collaboratively to reduce chemicals of mutual concern, such as mercury and flame retardants, and are making progress on the management of contaminated sediment in Areas of Concern. In addition, binational Lakewide Action and Management Plans are issued every five years to restore and protect each of the Great Lakes. Canada invests tens of millions of dollars in regional and national programs that support Great Lakes restoration and protection. This includes an additional $44.84 million announced in 2017 for the Great Lakes Protection Initiative.

Other contributing Canadian policies include ongoing efforts to reduce acid deposition and avoid critical loads of acidity that lead to long-term harmful effects on ecosystems and biodiversity.

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