Nearly a decade after the revised 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was
signed by Canada and the United States to "restore and maintain the
chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes
Basin Ecosystem," the two nations agreed that the worst areas would be
given priority attention. Subsequently, 43 such areas were designated as Areas
of Concern because they contained contaminated sediment, inadequately treated
wastewater, nonpoint source pollution, inland contaminated sites or degraded
habitat to a greater degree than the rest of the Great Lakes. Twenty-six of
these are solely in the United States, 10 are solely in Canada, and five are
Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement directs Canada and the
United States, working with state and provincial governments, to develop plans
(known as Remedial Action Plans) to restore and protect ecosystem health so
that the water is drinkable, beaches are swimmable and fish are safe to eat,
among other such beneficial uses. Pursuant to the commitment made in our 2002
Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality and the requirements of
the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the International Joint Commission
produced this report to inform the public on how much has been done in
restoring beneficial uses in Areas of Concern. The Commission greatly
appreciates the cooperation and assistance of the two governments in its
In many cases, information on remedial action to date, on future activities,
and on the restoration of beneficial uses is unavailable or incomplete.
Moreover, it is difficult to determine the actual impact of work done in the
Great Lakes basin outside of the Remedial Action Plan program on the
restoration of beneficial uses in Areas of Concern. However, we do know that
the general direction toward restoration is positive. While the Great Lakes
Water Quality Agreement does not prescribe the means to implement the
restoration called for in Remedial Action Plans, it does call on governments to
ensure that such plans are implemented. As such, the approach in each country
is different. Although a significant level of effort toward Remedial Action
Plan implementation has been observed in the Great Lakes Areas of Concern, much
more work remains to be done. For the best information available on indicators
of progress for each Area of Concern, see the Matrix of Restoration Activities
that accompanies this report. These indicators include sediment remediation,
wastewater infrastructure, habitat rehabilitation, nonpoint source pollution
control, and remediation of hazardous waste sites.
The Commission observes that the magnitude of restoration required in the
United States is greater than in Canada, and therefore, the resources allocated
to remediation tend to reflect this distinction.
The findings of the Commission are as follows.
- Two Areas of Concern in Canada have been delisted, and two Areas of Concern,
one in Canada and one in the United States, are recognized as being Areas of
Concern in a Recovery Stage.
- In Canada, work to remediate sediment has taken place or is ongoing in two of
10 Canadian-only Areas of Concern. Natural recoverya has been selected as the remedial strategy in seven Canadian-only Areas of
Concern. To date, approximately $33 million (CAD) has been spent on sediment
remediation in Areas of Concern. In addition, approximately $270 million (CAD)
has been spent on wastewater infrastructure in Areas of Concern.
- In the United States, work to remediate sediment has taken place or is ongoing
in 14 of the 26 United States-only Areas of Concern. To date, the United
States reports that $160 million (USD) has been spent in Areas of Concern, and
several billion dollars has been spent on wastewater treatment. Aside from
Presque Isle Bay (Pennsylvania) and Torch Lake (Michigan), no United States
Area of Concern has decided whether natural recovery will be its strategy for
remediating sediment. Cleanup of contamination at nonaquatic sites that
contribute to restoration of Areas of Concern has occurred under other
programs, such as the U.S. Superfund program, but cleanup of these nonaquatic
sites is not always specifically associated with Remedial Action Plans.
- Work to remediate contaminated sediment has taken place or is ongoing in two of
the five binational Areas of Concern in Canada and in four of the five
binational Areas of Concern in the United States.
- The governments are not adequately reporting biennially on progress in
developing and implementing Remedial Action Plans and in restoring beneficial
uses, as called for in Annex 2 of the Agreement.
- Key challenges facing the governments in implementing Remedial Action Plans and
restoring beneficial uses are:
- securing the resources to implement the plans;
- identifying accountability and responsibility;
- defining restoration targets where they do not exist;
- setting priorities; and
- monitoring recovery.
- Information gaps on what has been implemented and what needs to be done limit
the governments' ability to estimate and successfully acquire resources
necessary to restore beneficial uses in the Areas of Concern.
- Many Areas of Concern, particularly those in the United States, do not have
clearly defined geographic boundaries as required by Annex 2 of the Great Lakes
Water Quality Agreement, thereby making it difficult to determine a full
accounting of restoration activities within the Areas of Concernb.
- The governments' management of Remedial Action Plans requires more clearly
delineated accountability and responsibility, however, some recent progress in
this regard is noted.
- The criteria and rationale for selecting natural recovery as the method of
sediment remediation are not clear.
- Although the Agreement does not use the term, the two governments are
recognizing or designating Areas of Concern as being in a recovery stage.
- Without clear restoration targets for each impaired beneficial use in each Area
of Concern, particularly in the United States, it is difficult to quantify the
specific costs of the remaining work. The United States government, however,
has currently estimated that costs of $7.4 billion (USD) will be required to
address the wastewater infrastructure and sediment improvements necessary to
restore beneficial uses in selected Areas of Concern for which detailed
information is available. No information is available on future costs in its
remaining Areas of Concern. The Canadian government has estimated a cost of
$1.9 billion (CAD) to address these improvements across all Canadian Areas of
In view of our obligations, studies and discussions with the parties, the
recommendations of the Commission are as follows.
- The two governments should document their considerable investment and
achievements to date in order to provide the public with a true reflection of
- The two governments should meet their responsibility to formally report
biennially on the degree to which each impaired beneficial use in each Area of
Concern has been restored, as required by Annex 2, Paragraph 7(b), of the Great
Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
- The two governments should ensure that monitoring, data support and information
management systems are in place and that the governments soon provide an update
of the Matrix of Restoration Activities to the Commission. The Commission
believes that the utility of the matrix would be greatly enhanced by
maintaining it as a living, web-based document available to governments and the
public, and invites governments to help make this happen.
- The two governments should report to the Commission and the public on the
criteria and rationale for selecting natural recovery as the method of sediment
- The United States government should soon provide the Commission with a schedule
for the development of restoration targets for each impaired beneficial use in
each of the Areas of Concern.
- Federal, state and provincial governments should ensure accountability and
responsibility for Remedial Action Plan implementation and set clear lines of
authority for each of the Areas of Concern.
- Federal, state and provincial governments should ensure that maps for the Areas
of Concern clearly define the geographic boundaries of each Area of Concern,
particularly in the United States, and that they identify the sources of
- Federal, state and provincial governments should report to the Commission and
the public on their rationale for determining priorities for remedial measures
and identify those priorities within and among the Areas of Concern.
- The two governments should report to the Commission and the public the criteria
and rationale for recognizing or designating Areas of Concern in a Recovery
In the Canada-Ontario Agreement of 2002 and the United States Great Lakes
Strategy of 2002, both Environment Canada and the United States Policy
Committee identify plans to address several of these recommendations. The
Commission looks forward to reporting on their implementation.
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