Threats to the St Lawrence River

It’s easy to imagine the mighty St. Lawrence flowing…

. . .

— unchanged but for seasons and storms — through the landscape and, most certainly through our memories. Although such an integral part of many lives and communities, many still take the river for granted. But the St. Lawrence is under attack.

Save The River — From What?

While many people believe the St. Lawrence is clean and stable — especially compared to the murky Mississippi and nitrate-filled Ohio — our river was named to America’s Most Endangered Rivers list in 2017.

According to Save The River, the region’s leading grassroots environmental advocacy organization, the biggest dangers are:

Invasive Species. More than 168 invasive species have been discovered in the St. Lawrence, and these interlopers have a significant effect on the ecosystem. Cattails, for example, overtake native species, clog the shoreline, and make spawning grounds inaccessible.

Increasing Traffic. The St. Lawrence is the only path for ships navigating to the Great Lakes. But along with cargo, steel carriers transport invasives, strain infrastructure, and expose the river to the risk of accidents and oil spills.

Winter Navigation: Industries would like nothing more than to use the St. Lawrence year-round. It’s good for business — but not the river. Ice breaking causes significant damage to the shoreline and habitats.

As businesses strive to make use of every last day of the shipping season, despite the reality of northern winters, they find ice isn’t easily tamed. In January, 2018, a 650-foot carrier became lodged near Massena, NY. In these conditions, spill response assets, such as boats and booms, are not accessible. The result could be disastrous. What if ice damage causes a leak? How will oil and other toxic spills be contained and cleaned?

Misconceptions: This is, perhaps, the biggest threat facing the St. Lawrence. Why? It leads to a lack of understanding — and complacence. A few common “myths”:

  • Zebra mussels aren’t so bad. They’re clearing the river up! Well, true: they do filter up to a liter of water a day as they feed. But clear water does not mean clean water. Zebra mussels cause algae blooms that, when toxic, are harmful to both water life and people.
  • Laws will protect the river. Initiatives have led positive results, such as a 96% decrease in toxicity of liquid discharge by dozens of the most polluting industries, and Ontario’s “drinking water safety net” has earned an “A” on the Ecojustice Canada’s Drinking Water Report Card. But we must remain vocal about keeping these protections in place, especially as industries exploit loopholes or seek to rollback laws designed to keep the river safe.
  • Plan 2014 caused high water levels in 2017. Plan 2014 which returns more natural levels and flows to the River in an effort to restore wetlands and rebound fish and bird populations was believed by many to have caused high water levels. In reality, record rainfall was the “culprit.”
  • There’s nothing I can do. Yes, there is! From supporting Save The River to being a more conscientious boater, you can take steps to keep our river healthy.

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What’s at stake if these threats are not mitigated? Habitats. Native species. Fishing. Livelihoods. Tourism. Recreation. Beauty. Memories. A way of life. The St. Lawrence is worth protecting. Ready to learn how?

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