Benefits to Delisting AOCs that go beyond the environment
Posted on: August 3, 2021
Life After Delisting: Wide Community Involvement Can Extend Benefits of  Restoring Areas of Concern | International Joint Commission
Severn Sound is an AOC that has been delisted through RAP

In 1987 the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement identified 43 Areas of Concern (AOCs) around the Great Lakes with 26 in the United States, 12 in Canada, and 5 binational areas shared between the two countries. AOCs are places where the environmental integrity of an area has been severely degraded in physical, chemical, or biological water quality parameters through human activity. At the time of the designation, these areas lost their ability to properly function and the negative impacts were felt by both aquatic and human life.

In order for an AOC to be delisted, all Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) must be remediated to begin the delisting process. There are 14 types of BUIs that range from fish tumours to beach closings to loss of habitat to benthos degradation and everything in between. As of March 2021, eight AOCs have been delisted, two are in the recovery phases and the other 33 AOCs are continuing to have work and develop projects to restore the BUIs of the given AOC. BUIs are removed with targets set by the local Remedial Action Plan (RAP) that include provincial governments, tribal governments, First Nations, Métis, municipal governments, watershed management, local public agencies, and a public advisory council (PAC). Projects are typically funded through the Great Lakes Protection Initiative (GLPI) in Canada.

Delisting an AOC has positive impacts on aquatic ecosystems, but the benefits of delisting an AOC extends beyond the water. AOCs impact both the local community and the ecosystem of an area. These community beneficiaries include nearby First Nations communities, government officials, artists, athletes, planners, anglers and many more. Delisting an AOC involves an ongoing conversation with these beneficiaries to determine the best clean-up option for the particular community.

Different indicators need to be established to track the progress of delisting an AOC and addressing the BUIs, these indicators are not exclusively environmental, but can also extend to the economy and human health. Having a broad perspective when addressing AOCs is important because of the far-reaching impacts restoring natural habitats and functions can have on a community.

Delisting an AOC can turn a waterfront that was once degraded with a bad reputation to a vibrant, healthy place, where both the ecosystem and people can flourish. It is important for the community to have representation and engagement from all types of ecosystem beneficiaries to help ensure the longevity of projects and a strong revitalization that everyone benefits from. Community buy-in also helps to keep the waterfront healthy and helps to prevent future degradation after the AOC has been delisted.

Projects aim to clean up and restore degradation while improving human well-being and social equity while protecting and improving natural capital. Without a healthy functional ecosystem, human well-being and social equity are difficult to improve. Delisting AOCs often have a positive impact on property values in AOC communities, as well as increased outdoor recreation, commerce, port or shoreline activity, residential development that’s all supported by a healthy and sustainable environment.

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