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Lake Ontario Lakewide Action and Management Plan

The Lake Ontario Lakewide Action and Management Plan (LAMP) is a binational plan to protect and restore the health of Lake Ontario by addressing the chemical, biological and physical stressors affecting the lake. Both the Niagara River and St. Lawrence River are included in the scope of the Lake Ontario LAMP.

The Lake Ontario LAMP is led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Canada, DEC, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. The LAMP guides the activities of these and other U.S. and Canadian federal, state, provincial, and tribal agencies by establishing ecosystem goals, objectives and indicators.

Major Issues Affecting Lake Ontario

There are several major issues affecting the health of Lake Ontario that the LAMP partners are working to address:

Degradation of the lower food chain

As new species have been introduced to Lake Ontario, the lake's ecosystem, habitat and food web have changed.

The former dominant lake bottom species, the native shrimp-like crustacean Diporeia, was nearly eliminated from the lake following the arrival of Zebra and Quagga Mussels. This important food source for Lake Trout remains rare in offshore areas of the lake.

Picture of Ciscos (Lake Herring) in a net
Ciscos were stocked into Irondequoit Bay in
December 2012. Image credit: USGS.

Other native prey species (e.g. Lake Whitefish, Ciscos (Lake Herring) and Deepwater Ciscos (including Bloater)) have also seen rapid declines. Until the mid-1950s, these species were important food sources for large sportfish such as Lake Trout. As these prey species declined, Alewife (a non-native species) became the primary food source. Alewife is less nutritious for sportfish and this diet has led to reproductive failure from vitamin B deficiencies.

The LAMP partners are working to restore self-sustaining populations of native prey species. Bloaters were re-introduced to the lake in November 2012 and Ciscos were stocked into the lake in December 2012.

Loss of biodiversity

The biodiversity of the lake's ecosystem is affected by aquatic invasive species, nearshore water quality, shoreline development, and the effects of water level regulation on coastal wetlands. The Lake Ontario Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and the follow-up document, Plan for Implementing a Lake Ontario Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, guide projects for biodiversity restoration and preservation.

Fish consumption restrictions

Restrictions on the consumption of most sportfish in Lake Ontario continue because of chemicals such as PCBs and mirex. The New York State Department of Health issues an annual advisory on eating sportfish (and wildlife) because of potentially harmful levels of chemical contaminants.

Aquatic invasive species

The Great Lakes ecosystem has about 180 different invasive species and reducing their impact is a challenge for the LAMP partners. Invasive species affecting Lake Ontario include Zebra and Quagga Mussels; Sea Lamprey; Fishhook Water Flea; Round Goby; Spiney Waterflea; and Phragmites.

Nearshore water quality

Nutrients are vital to Lake Ontario's food web; however, nutrient levels that are too high can lead to excessive algae, including nuisance algae and potentially toxic blue-green algae.

Picture of EPA's research vessel, the Lake Guardian.
EPA's research vessel, the Lake Guardian,
participated in the 2003, 2008 and 2013 CSMI
studies of Lake Ontario. Image credit: USEPA.

Phosphorus levels are much higher in the nearshore areas of the lake than in the offshore areas. This is important because the nearshore area is the part of the lake that people have the most contact with. Understanding nearshore nutrient cycling and the interactions between tributary inflows, lake currents, seasonal changes, waves, and invasive Quagga and Zebra Mussels is an ongoing process supported by the binational Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI), an intensive assessment of the lake's ecosystem that occurs every five years. Lake Ontario CSMI assessments took place in 2003, 2008 and 2013.

Work is underway on both sides of the lake to reduce the amount of nutrients entering the lake through its tributaries. In New York, the Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law will reduce phosphorus runoff to all of the state's waterbodies. Farms on both sides of the lake are implementing best management practices to reduce runoff from their land.

Lake Ontario Ecosystem Forums

In support of the Lake Ontario LAMP, the Center for Environmental Initiatives has created an interactive "Lake Ontario Forum" website to provide information about the LAMP and highlight opportunities for on-the-ground stewardship action. A direct link to the website is available in the 'Links Leaving DEC's Website' section on the right-hand column of this page.

In 2013, DEC, EPA and New York Sea Grant hosted two public forums about issues affecting Lake Ontario and the work being done under the Lake Ontario LAMP to address those issues. Presenters from DEC, USGS, the NY Natural Heritage Program, local universities and watershed organizations offered information on water quality in Lake Ontario, Lake Ontario beaches, the lake's food web, restoration of native fish species, research on toxic contaminants in fish, and monitoring and restoration of the lake's coastal wetlands.

A summary of each forum is available:

More about Lake Ontario Lakewide Action and Management Plan: