05/01/2014 05:13 EDT | Updated 07/01/2014 05:59 EDT

We Need to Preserve Our Great Lakes

Georgian Bay Forever is all about protecting your water -- but not simply because water is a precious part of our natural environment.

Indeed, water is critical to our $5.1-trillion regional economy and the 40 million people who call the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River region their home. Whether through tourism or shipping, water matters to the economy.

In order to ensure the effective deployment of resources on the Canadian side of these international bodies of water, the federal and provincial governments negotiated the Canada-Ontario Agreement to facilitate their collaborative work on priority actions to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

The last COA was signed in 2007 after two extensions to give the federal government time to focus on the Canada--U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. But by June 2012, the COA had expired. That was when negotiations began on a new COA agreement.

Georgian Bay Forever had some particular interests in ensuring that several key principles were included and strengthened in this process and we are happy to see those philosophies incorporated in the fourteen annexes of the proposed agreement to provide conditions for robust, resilient economies and ecosystems.

We stressed the need for engaging and empowering communities to take an active role in protecting water resources for both human and ecological health. GBF also advocated for protecting and improving wetlands, beaches and coastal areas, and addressing invasive species, while protecting native ecosystem biodiversity, habitats and species. To do this best, we should focus on enhancing our understanding of the system, including the interconnection between groundwater and surface water and developing adaptation strategies for climate change impacts. Taken together, these priorities help towards ensuring environmentally sustainable economic opportunities and innovation.

Georgian Bay Forever has recently been working to improve our understanding of the impacts of declining water levels on the Great Lakes regional economy and looking at innovative mitigation strategies to minimize the significant costs of adaptation.

There are significant challenges ahead, but the scaffolding of the Agreement to provide focus and resources on the upcoming incremental steps needed to achieve those outcomes is once again in place. Now, we can get on with the work ahead.

Ensuring that our waters are drinkable, swimmable and fishable for generations to come is Georgian Bay Forever's mission and the COA should help.