Great Lakes Water Quality
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) is a formal international agreement, first signed in 1972 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and President Richard Nixon, and updated in 1978, 1987 and 2012. The Agreement reflects the commitment of Canada and the U.S. to address a wide range of water quality issues facing the Great Lakes and the international section of the St. Lawrence River.
In 2012, the governments of Canada and the United States substantially revised the 1987 Agreement. The new 2012 GLWQA came into force Feb. 12, 2013, and gives the IJC substantial responsibilities to assess progress and to engage and inform the public.
The IJC’s role Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is to analyze information provided by the governments, assess the effectiveness of programs in both countries and report on progress toward meeting the Agreement’s objectives. The initial Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement established a Water Quality Board and a Research Advisory Board to advise the IJC and a regional office in the Great Lakes basin, administered by the IJC, to assist the IJC with its responsibilities under the Agreement.
Reporting on Progress
In the first three versions of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the IJC was required to report every two years on progress to accomplish the Agreement’s goals and objectives. The last biennial report, the sixteenth, was released in April 2013. Under the 2012 version of the Agreement, the IJC will report on a triennial basis. Its first triennial assessment of progress report was released in November 2017.
Great Lakes Water Quality Board
The Great Lakes Water Quality Board was established as the principal advisor to the IJC under the 1972 GLWQA . In 2014, the IJC updated the mandate and detailed functions for the Great Lakes Water Quality Board to reflect the new GLWQA. The Great Lakes Water Quality Board assists the IJC by:
a) reviewing and assessing progress of the Parties in implementation of this Agreement;
b) identifying emerging issues and recommending strategies and approaches for preventing and resolving the complex challenges facing the Great Lakes; and
c) providing advice on the role of relevant jurisdictions to implement these strategies and approaches.
Great Lakes Science Advisory Board
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement also created a Research Advisory Board, now called the Science Advisory Board, to provide advice on research to the IJC and the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, and on other scientific matters referred to the board by the IJC or the Great Lakes Water Quality Board. Its members are divided into a Research Coordination Committee, which is made up primarily of government agency research program managers and identifies specific opportunities and mechanisms to improve binational collaboration, and a Science Priority Committee. The Science Priority Committee is made up of primarily academics with Indigenous, non-governmental organization and industry representation, and completes research on current and emerging threats to water quality and the IJC and Great Lakes Water Quality Board’s current priorities. Both committees review and provide advice to the IJC on its triennial assessment of progress report, and other science-based undertakings as requested.
In 2012, the IJC adopted four major priority areas for its Great Lakes work from 2012-2015. For each priority, the IJC approved a desired outcome that should result from its work by 2015 and assigned a staff management team to work with its Great Lakes boards and other experts.
Four current priorities:
- Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority to Reduce Phosphorus Loads and Algal Blooms
- Assessment of Progress Toward Restoring the Great Lakes
- Strengthening the Capacity to Deliver Great Lakes Science and Information
- Public Engagement and Education
Meetings and Reports under the 2012 GLWQA
Per the new agreement, the Canadian and U.S. governments shall convene, in cooperation with the IJC, a Great Lakes Public Forum one year after the implementation of the new 2012 GLWQA and every three years after the first Forum.
The first Great Lakes Public Forum was held on September 10, 2013 in conjunction with
Great Lakes Week. (Videos of the event are available at www.greatlakesnow.org)
The last Great Lakes Public Forum was held October 4-6, 2016 and provided an opportunity for the IJC to discuss and receive public input on the on the Progress Report of the Parties, which describes actions taken by the governments of Canada and the United States under the new Agreement.
Under the new Agreement, the IJC is required to report every three years on progress toward meeting the Agreement’s objectives. The IJC held a series of online and in-person discussions and meetings to consider the public's views on its first draft assessment of progress and the governments of Canada and the United States' Progress Report.
The IJC will prepare a synthesis of public comment for the governments of Canada and the United States and will present its first triennial Assessment of Progress Report to the governments in 2017.
For more information on the IJC's First Great Lakes Triennial Assessment of Progress, click here.
Past Meetings and Reports under the 1987 GLWQA
Between 1972 and 2012, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement required the IJC to report every two years on progress toward meeting the Agreement’s objectives.
- Biennial Meetings
The Canadian and U.S. governments with the IJC convened a major public meeting in the Great Lakes Basin every other year to present up-to-date science and hear from the public on Great Lakes water quality challenges. Attended by thousands of citizens, the meetings have contributed important information and data to the IJC’s biennial Great Lakes water quality reports.
- Biennial Reports
The biennial reports have focused attention on important Great Lakes problems, helped promote public awareness and contributed to enhanced policies of the two governments.