International Joint Commission
Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality


July 1998


In the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the governments of the United States and Canada agreed "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem." Under the terms of the Agreement, the two federal governments agreed "to make a maximum effort to develop programs, practices and technology necessary for a better understanding of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and to eliminate or reduce to the maximum extent practicable the discharge of pollutants into the Great Lakes System."

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is directed to make a full assessment of the progress toward achieving the objectives of the Agreement every two years. The Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality is the Commission's most recent assessment of progress.

The Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality

In July 1998, The International Joint Commission released its Ninth Biennial Report. The goal of the report is to rejuvenate action on the part of governments and bring solutions and resolution to on-going problems and issues affecting the Great Lakes.

In addition to making 19 recommendations that present a number of specific targets and deadlines to help achieve the Agreement's purpose, the report discusses several important issues that must be recognized.

This information sheet is one of seven that highlight important issues discussed in the report.


Restoration and protection of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem require strong underpinnings of essential programs -- science-policy links, models and surveillance and monitoring.

Science and Research

Science and research must provide information that assists society to act on what is in the best interest of the Great Lakes. Science and research are essential. They provide a basis to identify, understand and solve environmental problems.

The Commission supports dedicated, long-term funding for key research programs, such as research to reduce and eliminate atmospheric releases of toxic and persistent toxic substances, and to develop alternative industrial and manufacturing processes to ensure that these chemicals are removed from production and use and, therefore, will never pose a threat to humans.

The Commission supports studies to determine the nature and extent of injury to human and ecosystem health caused by persistent toxic substances, including investigation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can contribute to adverse reproductive, developmental, immunological and behavioural consequences as a result of prenatal and neonatal exposure. The Commission seeks assurances that key considerations related to endocrine-disrupting chemicals are addressed in a timely manner.

The Commission recommends the following:

  1. Public and private sectors
    • fund research that expands understanding about the incidence of endocrine disruption in humans and wildlife;
    • conduct programs to measure and establish the concentration of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in human tissues and fluids; and
    • - investigate endocrine-disrupting capability of chemical mixtures.

Communication of Scientific Information -- Linking Science and Policy

Science and research must provide information in a manner that is understandable and defensible to those who fund restoration and prevention. The Commission perceives a continuing gap between research undertaken by the scientific community and the information required by decision-makers to strengthen and underpin actions to evaluate, restore and maintain the Great Lakes. To help bridge the gap, the Commission has established a Communications Task Force to identify and communicate research needs, gaps, priorities and findings.

The Commission recommends the following:

  1. Governments actively participate in the work of the Communications Task Force under the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers.

Ecosystem Models --- Contributions to Problem Definition and Resolution

Ecosystem models help the Great Lakes community to evaluate management strategies and to make informed decisions. Models help in understanding the transport and fate of persistent toxic substances, leading to more informed decisions about their control and management. Models continue to prove their worth for the evaluation of remediation alternatives in support of RAPs and LaMPs, particularly contaminated sediment and non-point sources, indicators, biodiversity and habitat. Models must remain focused on important management issues.

The Commission recommends the following:

  1. Governments support the development and application of models to assist in the testing, evaluation and implementation of ecosystem indicators, monitoring strategies, and management strategies for water quality, contaminants, fisheries and other ecosystem issues.

Surveillance and Monitoring

Surveillance and monitoring provide information about the status of the Great Lakes environment and progress toward achieving the Agreement's purpose. It is the basic tool that informs decision-making. These programs provide data and information that identify problems, describe the present status of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem and track progress to restore and protect beneficial uses. Surveillance and monitoring provide the evidence of success or failure of a completed cleanup effort.

At present, the Commission does not have the surveillance and monitoring data and information necessary to track environmental change, conduct an evaluation or formulate relevant policy advice. The Commission is working with governments to secure data and information to answer the perennial questions about fishable, swimmable and drinkable water.

Recent budget cuts have resulted in wholesale elimination of surveillance and monitoring programs. It is particularly important that monitoring for persistent toxic substances in biota be continued and improved. Not only do biota give the primary indication of the effects of these substances, in the case of fish they are the principal route of human exposure.

The Commission recommends the following:

  1. Governments identify surveillance and monitoring programs essential to track contaminant loadings to and concentration trends for each of the Great Lakes; provide assurances to the Commission and the public that these programs will be maintained; and provide on a timely basis data and information to quantify load reductions and ecosystem improvements.

Scheduled Review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement has been renegotiated twice in the past 26 years to include current issues such persistent toxic substances. It is scheduled to be reviewed again this year. The Commission firmly believes that the present Agreement is sound, effective and flexible. Review and renegotiation are not necessary. Rather, the governments need to renew and fulfill their commitments and focus on implementation, enforcement and other actions to achieve the Agreement's purpose.

The International Joint Commission (IJC)

IJC was established through the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty of the United States and Canada. The Treaty recognizes that each country may be affected by the others actions in the lake and river systems along their common border; its purpose is to prevent and resolve disputes concerning these boundary waters.

In 1972, the governments of the United States and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This Agreement was superseded in 1978 by a new Agreement. Its purpose "is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem." IJC assesses the effectiveness of programs and progress pursuant to it.

For More Information

Additional information regarding IJC's Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality can be obtained by contacting an IJC office:

Canadian Section
Fabien Lengellé
100 Metcalfe St., 18th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1P 5M1
(613) 995-0088

United States Section
Frank Bevacqua
1250 23rd St. N.W., Suite 100
Washington, D.C. 20440
(202) 736-9024

Great Lakes Regional Office
Jennifer Day
In Canada -
100 Ouellette Ave., 8th Floor
Windsor, ON N9A 6T3
(519) 257-6734
In the U.S. -
P.O. Box 32869
Detroit, MI 48232
(313) 226-2170 Ext. 6734