Fifty years ago, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened amid great fanfare and ringing predictions of economic growth in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region. Unfortunately, these predictions went unfulfilled, while the introduction of ocean going vessels to the fresh waters brought disastrous environmental consequences.
From the crippling and irreversible alterations wrought by invasive species introductions to the routine discharge of ship-borne pollution, the Lakes and River have been consistently damaged by impacts from commercial navigation for fifty years, spelling disaster for the people who rely directly on the region’s fresh water for drinking, recreation and economic well-being. (Read more about the Seaway’s legacy of pollution and unmet promises.)
An Opportunity for a Better Seaway
Today, we know that there are specific and tangible economic benefits linked to a healthy Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. We need to be restoring this magnificent resource, not allowing the Seaway to further degrade it.
Save The River has joined over 50 other citizen groups from around the region to call on the Seaway to act now to protect our River and Lakes. In a recently released report, we called upon the Seaway to protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River by taking the following actions:
1. Eliminate invasive species introductions: More than 185 aquatic invasive species have entered the Great Lakes, disrupting the food chain, fouling beaches and damaging infrastructure. The number one source of invasive species entering the Great Lakes is from the discharge of ballast water from ocean-going vessels.
2. Adapt to climate change: Climate change poses significant and untried challenges for the future of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River. Scientists estimate that lake levels will drop dramatically – perhaps as much as 3 feet by the 2050s. Industry has an opportunity and a responsibility to think creatively and constructively about how to adapt to the future in ways that avoid further damage to the resource.
3. Abandon unnecessary and costly system expansion proposals: The Seaway operates well below its capacity, yet over the past 22 years stakeholders have had to repeatedly fight back expansion proposals that would seek to allow wider, longer, and deeper vessels to operate on the Great Lakes. Physical expansion would worsen the environmental impacts of the Seaway. The governments of the United States and Canada should make it clear that expanding the Seaway is no longer an option.
4. Use cleaner fuels: While the waterborne mode of transportation may be the most fuel efficient, it does significantly contribute to regional air quality impacts. International vessels on the Great Lakes generally burn the same dirty fuel (bunker oil) that international vessels are allowed to burn under current international mandates. Both international and domestic vessels must reduce these air emissions.
5. Eliminate cargo sweeping and other discharges: While significant steps have been made in stopping regular discharges into the Great Lakes from ships, vessels continue to sweep dry cargo from their decks and into the water. Every year over the past 150 years, an estimated 2,500 tons of cargo residue have been dumped into the Lakes. This pollution vector should be eliminated, and there should be improvements to the monitoring of other vessel discharges to ensure that the waters are protected fro ship-borne pollution.
6. Minimize icebreaking: Commercial navigation during periods of significant ice negatively impact wetlands, shoreline and habitat. Additionally, emergency response capabilities are seriously hindered under ice conditions, making impacts from hazardous material spills much more significant. Further, in the light of climate change, ice cover should be maximized on the Great Lakes in order to minimize the predicted effects of increased evaporation due to climate change.
7. Increase transparency: Good governance and transparency mechanisms are essential for government entities to ensure that decision makers receive, and properly evaluate, all the information necessary to make informed policy or regulatory decisions; and that the public has access to enough information to review government decisions. Lack of transparency, a narrow range of represented interests and insufficient public access to information are a few issues that need to be looked at under a critical eye.
We have a golden opportunity on this 50th anniversary to creative a Seaway that is protective of our waterways.
Sign the petition calling on the Seaway and the navigation industry
to act now to protect our River.