Section 1: Specific Objectives (Annex 1)
Because Specific Objectives listed in Annex 1 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement have not been updated for more than 20 years, they have only limited relevance today to the goals of restoring and maintaining the chemical or biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. Revisions to Annex 1 are required if the Parties to the Agreement are to meet their responsibilities for, accountability to, and reporting on the adequacy of their efforts to protect the Great Lakes. The Parties recent work to develop indicators of Great Lakes environmental quality may enhance the development of new Specific Objectives.
Annex 1 puts forth a series of Specific Objectives, intended to provide a basis for judging progress toward achievement of the Agreement's purpose, including numerical targets. Nevertheless, knowledge has advanced to such a degree since then that the Specific Objectives developed nearly a quarter century ago are now out of date and of only limited value.
In particular, our understanding of the nature of the risk posed by contaminants, cause-and-effect relationships, and factors that affect human and ecosystem health have improved considerably, with no corresponding update to the Objectives. For example, we have learned that some chemicals are unsafe at levels far lower than previously thought, rendering inadequate the target levels stated in the Objectives. Specific Objectives should be able to drive management actions, but the outdated Objectives cannot properly serve this function. Furthermore, surveillance and monitoring data are not available to adequately evaluate the attainment of the Agreement's Objectives.
Many of the Objectives in Annex 1 no longer conform to revised or updated objectives of the Parties. Regulatory agencies no longer monitor many Annex 1 contaminants including aldrin/dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor/heptachlor epoxide, methoxychlor, and pharmaceuticals (see also Section 13). At the same time many other compounds, including polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorobenzenes, and octachlorostyrene, have emerged as serious potential health risks, but these are not included among the Objectives.
Many of the lakes' contaminants are not routinely monitored in water, often because the available data show that concentrations are so low, and the standard deviation so large, that routine monitoring serves no scientifically valid purpose. The Parties need to develop a new approach to objectives and monitoring programs, such as the continued development and use of indicators of ecosystem health that focus not only on concentrations of substances, but on ecological and human health effects, as highlighted in Chapter 1.
Through its Great Lakes Science Advisory Board, the Commission investigated whether Annex 1 is still relevant, if revisions are necessary, if there is a role for ecological indicators, and how achievement of Specific Objectives could be judged. The Commission concluded that in principal Annex 1 and the Specific Objectives are still relevant because tangible evidence, including achievement of stated targets, is necessary to demonstrate progress toward achieving the Agreement's purpose. The Objectives need revision so they can provide direction to determine what is required to restore beneficial uses and maintain ecosystem quality.
In signing the Agreement, the Parties committed to, "consult ... at least once every two years ..." regarding Annex 1. The only substantive discussion by the Parties to date was initiated in 1999 and then terminated with no further action. As part of their next review, the Parties have the opportunity to explore the role of indicators and their relationship to the Specific Objectives.
Objectives are of little use without surveillance and monitoring data. Despite the Parties' commitment in Annex 11 (Surveillance and Monitoring), "to provide definitive information [regarding] ... nonachievement of the Objectives ...," present programs are not geared to developing such data. A commitment to Annex 11 will be necessary to support revisions to Annex 1 and subsequent revision of the Objectives.
Article IV of the Agreement requires the use of statistically valid data to determine achievement of Specific Objectives. The Agreement, however, provides little guidance on the treatment of surveillance and monitoring data used to judge achievement. Yet, such considerations are critical in the design of both sampling and data analysis programs. For example, it is unclear whether the intention of a particular Objective is to assess average conditions, maximums or minimums, or values typical of a given geographic area or depth. Ideally, the Parties should state Objectives in such a way that intended statistical methods, and thus, considerations, such as spatial and temporal monitoring frequency, are clear.