Re-designation of the Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI (Canadian Side)
The Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI was listed as “Impaired” in the Stage 1 RAP report (1992) because native fish populations were being affected by habitat alteration, overfishing, pollution, and invasive species. Although at the time wildlife populations appeared to be stable or increasing, it was noted that assessment criteria was needed to determine whether wildlife populations were impaired; and therefore, further assessment was required.
Since the river was designated as an AOC, vast improvements have been made to help restore water quality and ecosystem health through a series of remedial actions and monitoring initiatives on both sides of the river. Upon completion of the Little Rapids Restoration Project, the Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI was re-designated to “Not Impaired” on the U.S. side of the St. Marys River AOC (September 23, 2019).
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) completed an assessment of the AOC fish community using the index of biotic integrity (IBI) approach in two separate studies, encompassing fieldwork and data analysis in 2006-08 and 2014-15. Both studies conclude the St. Marys River is home to a relatively healthy fish community that is complex, diverse, and dominated by native species.
All recommended remedial and monitoring actions pertaining to the wildlife component of the Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI have been completed. The assessments and work completed show that the overall health of wildlife in the St. Marys River is comparable to non-AOC areas. It is therefore recommended a change in status from “Requires Further Assessment” to “Not Impaired”.
Based on the lines-of-evidence presented for both fish and wildlife populations and the fulfilling of the delisting criteria, it is now being recommended that the Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI for the Canadian side of the St. Marys River AOC be re-designated to “Not Impaired”.
Conceptual Site Model (CSM) Update/Sediment Management Strategy
A Conceptual Site Model (CSM) has been developed to assemble and synthesize existing information pertaining to contaminated sediment within the AOC. The overall deduction of the CSM is that that there is a low potential for adverse effects in benthic invertebrates, fish, wildlife, and humans that are exposed to contaminated sediment in the St. Marys River. Institutional controls to safeguard against exposing deeper, buried contaminants was advised.
A Sediment Management Strategy is currently being prepared to account for the updated Degradation of Benthos BUI delisting criteria and outline a plan for sediment sites throughout the St. Marys River. This will include any actions needed (e.g., administrative controls) and associated timelines. For areas where no management actions are warranted, the Strategy will clearly explain the reasons why management actions are not required.
The CSM will be updated upon finalization of the Sediment Management Strategy.
Whitefish Island Fish Habitat Project
In an effort to help address the Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat BUI, draft design plans and concept drawings have been developed for naturalizing the channel bed and bank areas of the Whitefish Channel and constructing shoals east of Whitefish Island to benefit native fish populations. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) will work in partnership with Batchewana First Nation to move this project forward in 2021.
Follow-up Fish Tumour Survey
A fish tumour survey conducted in Fall 2015 by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) showed this beneficial use impairment continues to be impaired; with a tumour prevalence rate of 6% (i.e., 100 White Suckers were collected from the Bellevue Marine Park and Partridge Point areas, and 6 were found to have liver tumours). It is getting closer to the delisting criteria of <5% tumour rate, and there has been improvement since the survey in 2009 that produced a fish tumour rate of 10.7%. Given that fish tumours are the result of elevated PAHs in sediment, the remedial action linked to this BUI includes dredging the Algoma Steel boat slip, which has been significantly completed in 2017 and 2019. ECCC is planning a follow-up fish tumour survey for potentially Fall 2021.
Fish Consumption Survey
There have been significant improvements in the water quality and the clean-up of contaminants that enter the St. Marys River. However, the Restrictions on Fish Consumption BUI is currently listed as “Impaired”. In following the recommended actions that were identified to help restore the Area of Concern the St. Marys River RAP is currently developing an approach for surveying and engaging fishers who use the St. Marys River. This survey will provide a better understanding of fish consumption patterns in our Area of Concern as well as help to inform decisions regarding the evaluation and eventual redesignation of the Fish Consumption BUI.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is working with Batchewana First Nation to advance proposed aquatic habitat restoration on Whitefish Island. Restoration may include naturalization of channel bed and bank areas, as well as construction of islands and shoals east of the main island. The objective is to restore and create habitat important to native fish species including Brook Trout, Whitefish and Walleye.
The Stage 2 Remedial Action Plan identifies three actions needed to address the Beach Closings BUI. They include reducing stormwater infiltration at the East End Wastewater Treatment Plan (Action PS-2), upgrading the East End Wastewater Treatment Plant to include secondary treatment (Action PS-3), and the assessment of potential health risks resulting from floating contaminated masses (Action NPSM-7). In 2017, the RAP Coordinator finalized a re-designation report with the recommendation that this BUI be changed to a “Not Impaired” status. It accounts for significant improvements the significant improvements in overall water quality and efforts to address sources of E.coli to the AOC, including a stormwater management plan created by the City of Sault Ste. Marie.
To access Algoma University's beach closings redesignation report click here.
A study conducted by Algoma University from 2013-2015 found no large algal blooms or high concentrations of microscopic algae. No nutrients measured fell within the range exhibited by eutrophic waters, which is a good sign considering inputs from a large oligotrophic lake such as Lake Superior. There was also no evidence of unnatural colour, odour, or turbidity indicating resolved problems associated with degraded aesthetics.
To access Algoma University’s water quality report click here.