St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) Area of Concern

What is an Area of Concern (AOC)?

An Area of Concern (AOC) is defined as a geographic area that fails to meet the objectives of the Canada - U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This means that the AOC has beneficial use impairments and the areas ability to support aquatic life could be impaired. There are a total of 43 Areas of Concern in the US and Canada. Of the 17 Canadian Areas of Concern, two have been officially delisted (Collingwood Harbour and Severn Sound), and another is in the state of Natural Recovery (Spanish Harbour).

What is the Remedial Action Plan (RAP)?

The Great Lakes Remedial Action Plan Program was created in 1987, when it was formalized in Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States. Annex 2 outlines the commitment of both countries to an "ecosystem approach" for restoring and protecting environmentally degraded areas of the Great Lakes. An ecosystem approach considers humans, fish, wildlife and plants in environmental management.

In 1987, the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Water Quality was signed to provide a more specific framework for restoring Areas of Concern in Ontario. 

Each AOC has a Remedial Action Plan to help guide environmental improvements for a sustainable ecosystem. Remedial Action Plans are completed in three stages:

Stage One: Determine the severity and underlying causes of environmental degradation.

Stage Two: Identify goals and recommend actions that will lead to the restoration and protection of ecosystem health.

Stage Three: Implement recommended actions and measure progress of restoration and protection efforts in the AOC to ensure that local goals have been met.

Once Stage Three is completed the AOC is considered “delisted”. The decision to delist is made by the federal, provincial and local RAP participants, with advice from the International Joint Commission. 

Where is the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) Area of Concern?

The St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC is approximately 80 kilometers in length and stretches from the Moses-Saunders power dam to the eastern outlet of Lake St. Francis. This is a Bi-National and transbounbdary AOC with similar restoration efforts in both Quebec and the United States (St. Lawrence River (Massena) Area of Concern):

What has been happening locally?

In the early 1990's seven major environmental issues of concern were identified by the Cornwall RAP Stage 1 Report  for the Cornwall / Massena section of the St. Lawrence River:

  1. Mercury contamination
  2. PCB contamination
  3. Presence of other Contaminants
  4. Bacterial (fecal) contamination
  5. Habitat Destruction and Degradation
  6. Excessive Growth of Nuisance Aquatic Plants
  7. Exotic Species
  8. Fish and Wildlife Health Problem Related Contaminants (Emerged when Stage 1 Report was released

In 1997, the Stage 2 Report for the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) Area of Concern called, Great Lakes, Great River, was completed. Within this document 64 recommended remedial actions are listed to address the environmental problems in the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC. The RAP program and the recommendations within the Stage 2 Report were designed to restore Beneficial Use Impairments (BUI). A BUI is the inability of an AOC to provide for a particular beneficial use of the aquatic ecosystem. A set of fourteen BUI's were listed in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Stage 2 Report identified 7 BUI’s that were degraded in the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC. These included:

  1. Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption
  2. Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations
  3. Degradation of Benthos
  4. Restrictions on Dredging Activities
  5. Eutrophication or undesirable Algae
  6. Beach Closings/Water Contact Sports
  7. Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat

A list of 3 possibly impaired BUI’s was also created. Further research was required to determine if these uses were in fact impaired. These included:

  1. Fish tumours and other deformities
  2. Bird or other animal deformities or reproduction problems
  3. Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations

Each BUI has associated delisting criteria that are used as targets to assess the recovery of the aquatic ecosystem. Once the delisting criteria for a BUI has been achieved through the implementation of remedial action  that criteria is considered “delisted” and is checked off the list. Once all the delisting criteria have been met for a specific AOC it is reported as “Delisted” and the AOC is removed from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment published an overview of the BUI status for the St. Lawrence River (Cornwall) Area of Concern as of September 2010.

St. Lawrence River Restoration Council (SLRRC)

The St. Lawrence River Restoration Council (SLRRC) was formed in 1998 in order to complete the 64 recommended remedial actions and address the BUI’s identified within the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern at Cornwall. Over the years SLRRC membership has been comprised of local environmental organizations, the general public, industry, municipalities, the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences, Raisin Region Conservation Authority, and government agencies including the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

As individual environmental issues have continued to be addressed over the last decade, the SLRRC has sought to re-examine its mandate, responsibilities, and scope of activity on and around the St. Lawrence River. In 2013, three public forums were held to look into SLRRC’s next steps and its future role within the ever changing riverscape that is the St. Lawrence. As a result, in 2014, SLRRC will develop into a new organization that hopes to serve as a River related environmental communication, education and coordination hub for future activities on the St. Lawrence River in eastern Ontario. They hope to organize a comprehensive network that supports ongoing research and remediation on the River while at the same time encouraging an environmentally balanced and sustainable approach to recreation and development.

Public Involvement Committee

The Public Involvement Committee (PIC) is a sub-group of the St. Lawrence River Restoration Council. The PIC is responsible for communicating RAP awareness, environmental stewardship and RAP project achievements to the public. The local lead for the PIC is the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences.

Those interested in more information should contact the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Transition Coordinator at 613-936-6620 ext.305 or e-mail