Here are some common definitions of terms used by the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup:

Algae – aquatic non flowering plants, can range in size from planktonic to very large.

Algal Bloom – occurs when algae growth is extremely fast, and colours a body of water green and takes up a large area of the water surface. The bloom grows quickly because of a change in environmental conditions such as additional nutrients in the water (eutrophication) from wastewater and other non-point sources. Algal blooms can result in oxygen depletion and other impacts such as fish kills.

Anthropogenic – relating to human caused activities as opposed to natural occurrences.

Aquatic – describing organisms or features that grow in, on and in the general area around water, and require water for survival.  

Area of Concern – An Area of Concern (AOC) is a location where environmental quality is degraded compared to other areas in the Great Lake Basin resulting in the impairment of beneficial uses. A total of 43 AOCs were identified as a result of Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA).

Area in Recovery (AIR) – An area, originally identified as an AOC, where, based on community and government consensus, all scientifically feasible and economically reasonable actions have been implemented and additional time is required for the environment to recover.

Beneficial Use – A beneficial use is defined as the ability of living organisms (including humans) to use the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem without adverse consequences.

Beneficial Use Impairment – A Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI) is a condition that interferes with the enjoyment of a water use, and can cause any of the following: 

  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • Tainting of fish and wildlife flavour
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Fish tumours or other deformities
  • Bird or animal deformities or reproductive problems
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Restrictions on dredging activities
  • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odour problems
  • Beach closings
  • Degradation of aesthetics
  • Added costs to agriculture or industry
  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

The Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) identifies 14 beneficial uses that must be restored in order to remove the designation as an Area of Concern. Each BUI has a set of locally-defined delisting criteria that are specific, measurable, achievable, and scientifically-defensible.

Bioconcentration/Biomagnification – the increase of a substance or contaminant in a food web through each trophic level. Eventually, organisms that sit higher in a food chain will have an increased level of contamination in their tissues.

Colony Forming Units, CFU – unit of measurement for determining the concentration of bacteria in a water sample.

Combined Sewer Overflow – one type of sewage collection system designed to collect sewage as well as surface runoff. During extreme weather events such as significant rainfall, combined sewers can cause water pollution to a local water body when the liquid captured in the system exceeds the local sewage treatment plant capacity. Often the excess water will flush through the system into a nearby river or other water body untreated. Water pollution happens as the surface water collects oil, grease, pesticides, pet and wildlife waste and other chemicals.

Contaminant – a substance that will cause harm by contact in a water body that causes low water quality unfit for use or enjoyment.

De-Listing – removal of an AOC from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern by meeting the criteria for the restoration of beneficial uses as defined by the RAP and agreed upon by the agencies and community.

Dredging – the process of scooping out sediment or mud, weeds, rubbish and anything else that is at the bottom of a waterbody. Material is typically removed to accommodate shipping channels and is disposed of elsewhere.

Drinking Water – a water supply that is fit to drink for human consumption (potable) that is treated or untreated. The Detroit River is the drinking water source for many people who live in the watershed.

Effluent – the outflow of wastewater from any water processing system or plant, discharged usually into a natural flowing river after treatment takes place.

Eutrophication – an increased level of nutrients (typically nitrate and phosphate) in a waterbody which can result in algae growth or bloom. This can then lead to decreased oxygen in the water and possibly fish kills. Often eutrophication is caused by natural erosion and surface runoff.

Habitat – a place within a larger ecosystem with specific environmental conditions where organisms, populations or communities live, feed and reproduce.

 Indicator Species – helps to define a characteristic of the environment, is often more sensitive and can sometimes act as an early warning to scientists conducting monitoring projects in their habitat range. For example, the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup monitors Brown Bullhead as an indicator species to the presence or absence of pollution in the sediments of the river, as they spend their entire lifecycle foraging in the mud and feeding off the benthic community who begin their life there.

Loading – how fast a contaminant is entering a water body.

Non-Point Source Pollution – is caused by surface water moving over and through the ground, typically from snow and rain. The surface runoff will carry away natural and human made pollutants, which eventually flow into rivers, lakes, wetlands and other water bodies. Non-point source pollution can include fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, oil, grease, chemicals, salt, acid drainage from mining sites, bacteria, and sediment from erosion. Non-point source can cause water quality problems which can impact drinking water sources and habitat for aquatic organisms.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)– a family of organic compounds which come from the combustion of fossil fuels. They are an environmental concern due to bioaccumulation of these compounds in organisms.

Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) – is an organic chlorine compound that were commonly used in electrical equipment in the past, but were banned in Canada in the 1970s. PCBs are persistent in the environment, as they do not break down easily on their own, and are difficult to destroy. They can accumulate in an organism’s tissue, and bioaccumulate through the food chain.

Point Source Pollution – a type of pollution source that is identifiable such as a pipe, smokestack or a drain. Factories, industries and sewage treatment plants are common types of point sources of pollution entering the environment.

Re-Designation of a BUI – meeting locally defined delisting criteria designed to be specific measurable, achievable and scientifically defensible. Sometimes this process is called delisting a BUI.

Remedial Action Plan – is a cleanup plan for restoring the environmental quality of an Area of Concern (AOC) such as the Detroit River. The RAP is administered locally in accordance with the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) and the Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA). The RAP is an ongoing collaborative effort implemented by federal, provincial, and local governments as well as industry and public partners.

Retention Treatment Basin (RTB) – collects, stores and treats combined sewer overflows before releasing the water back into a waterbody. The City of Windsor’s RTB is designed to reduce the amount of untreated wastewater entering the Detroit River as a result of a CSO.

Surface Runoff – water typically from rain or snow that flows across the land surface.

Trophic Level – the position an organisms occupies within a food chain.

Wastewater – also known as sewage is collected and treated at a wastewater treatment plant, and discharged back into a body of water.

Watershed – an area where all surface runoff will drain to a common point. Little River, Turkey Creek and River Canard all flow into the Detroit River watershed.

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