International Joint Commission (IJC)
More than a century of cooperation protecting shared waters

IJC Mission and Mandates


The International Joint Commission prevents and resolves disputes between the United States of America and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and pursues the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the two governments.

In particular, the Commission rules upon applications for approval of projects affecting boundary or transboundary waters and may regulate the operation of these projects; it assists the two countries in the protection of the transboundary environment, including the implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the improvement of transboundary air quality; and it alerts the governments to emerging issues along the boundary that may give rise to bilateral disputes.


Boundary Waters Treaty
The treaty provides principles for Canada and the United States to follow in using the waters they share. For example, both countries must agree to any project that would change the natural levels or flows of boundary waters. Far ahead of its time, the treaty states that waters shall not be polluted on either side of the boundary to the injury of health or property on the other side. The principles in the treaty are as relevant today as they were in 1909. The treaty established the International Joint Commission, with three members from each country. The ongoing work of the IJC helps to fulfill the treaty's purpose of preventing disputes as well as resolving them.

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed by Canada and the United States in 1972 following an extensive IJC scientific study that helped officials in both countries agree on actions they would take to clean up the Great Lakes, including building sewage treatment plants and reducing industrial discharges. The agreement required the IJC to report on progress by the governments toward restoring the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem, and establishes a bi-national Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.

In 1978, the countries signed a new agreement that added a commitment to rid the Great Lakes of persistent toxic substances, which remain in the environment for many years and can contaminate food sources for animals and people. Amendments to the agreement in 1987 established a process for restoring contaminated Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and for eliminating major pollutants through Lakewide Management Plans.

On Sept. 7, 2012, Canada and the United States amended the Agreement. The updated Agreement facilitates United States and Canadian action on threats to Great Lakes water quality and includes measures to prevent ecological harm. New provisions address the nearshore environment, aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation, and the effects of climate change. It also supports continued work on existing threats to people's health and the environment in the Great Lakes basin such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals, and discharges from vessels.

The Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement 
This agreement committed the two countries to significantly reducing emissions of pollutants that cause acid rain and contribute to smog. It also set up an Air Quality Committee to report every two years on progress. Under the Air Quality Agreement, the IJC invites public comment and provides a synthesis of comments to the Governments of Canada and the United States to assist them with the implementation of the Agreement.

Columbia River Treaty
In the 1940s, officials from the United States and Canada began a long process to seek a joint solution to the flooding caused by the unregulated Columbia River and to the postwar demand for greater energy resources. That effort culminated in the Columbia River Treaty, an international agreement between Canada and the United States for the cooperative development of water resources regulation in the upper Columbia River Basin. It was signed in 1961 and implemented in 1964.

Related treaties and agreements