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Standing Committee on Environment and
Sustainable Development

Presentation October 7, 2003

 

The Right Honourable Herb Gray, P.C., C.C., Q.C.
Chair, Canadian Section, International Joint Commission

{ } brackets indicate sections which were not presented orally in the interests of time

{Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak today. I have with me my colleague, Dennis Schornack, the Chair of the U.S. Section of the International Joint Commission.

I last met with you on June 5th at which time I explained the overall role of the International Joint Commission and more specifically we discussed the concerns of the Commission with respect to the introduction of alien invasive species into the Great Lakes. That presentation also elaborated on some of the other issues addressed in the 11th Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality. Extra copies of my June presentation are available for your reference and I will not repeat that information.

To set the stage for our comments today, however, it is important to be aware of the role of the International Joint Commission with respect to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and how we operate on a biennial cycle in carrying out our responsibilities under that Agreement. Very briefly, the Agreement is between the United States and Canada who are referred to as the >Parties=. In the Agreement the IJC has been given a permanent reference to assist and advise the Parties in its implementation. The Commission may write and publish reports as often as it considers necessary in its discharge of its responsibilities but it is required to make a full report at least every two years (biennially) to the two governments and the public on the progress of the governments in meeting their obligations under the Agreement. In Canada, many of the aspects of the Agreement are within provincial jurisdiction. The Canada - Ontario Agreement is the framework for the federal and provincial governments to co-ordinate the implementation of the Agreement.

The Agreement specifies the establishment of a Water Quality Board and a Science Advisory Board to assist the Commission in its work. In addition a Council of Great Lakes Research Managers has been created. Both the International Air Quality Advisory Board and the Health Professionals Task Force consider relevant issues along the length of the border but much of their focus is on the Great Lakes.

These Boards undertake their work on a two year cycle. At the end of the cycle each submits a report to the Commission. Then the Commission holds a public meeting at which the Boards can discuss these reports with the Great Lakes community and the public has an opportunity to voice their opinions to the Commissioners on these reports and on what should be the focus of the work in the next biennial cycle. After this meeting the Commission begins to write its biennial report taking into consideration both the reports of the boards and the comments of the public.

We are currently at the end of the most recent two year cycle. Our Biennial Meeting was held September 19/20 in Ann Arbor on the campus of the University of Michigan and was attended by about 400 people. Dennis Schornack will be elaborating more on the discussions and outcome of this meeting.

I understand that this Committee is interested in the quality of the water of the Great Lakes as seen from an IJC perspective. The most recent perspective of the IJC itself was presented in our last Biennial Report and the Special AOC Report. These documents were provided to you in June and discussed at that time. }

Today, I will review for you the highlights of the work of our boards by issue. The reports of all our Boards are publicly available if you require more background on any of the topics. I have a couple of copies of a consolidation of their reports with me today and they are on our website, www.ijc.org. Many of the issues being addressed by the boards require more work than can be accomplished in two years and their work will be continuing into the next cycle.

ISSUES STUDIED BY THE BOARDS

I now will report more specifically on the work of each Board which is relevant to your consideration of water quality.

Mercury and Human Health - Water Quality Board and International Air Quality Advisory Board

Once mercury enters the environment it will cycle repeatedly within the biosphere between earth, air and water. In sediments it can be converted to methylmercury and become increasingly concentrated in tissue as it moves up the food chain. Many of the fish consumption advisories in the Great Lakes basin are an attempt to protect humans from excessive exposure to mercury. The International Air Quality Advisory Board has been working with models to determine the sources of mercury to the region. The Science Advisory Board has been looking at the human health impacts of mercury. In order to protect human health, more effective means of advising people on how to reduce their exposure to mercury in fish will be needed. At the same time every effort will be needed to decrease the amount of mercury circulating in the ecosystem from contaminated sediment, from air deposition from coal plants and from hospital and dental sources. The Commission has always insisted that better consumption advisories are only a short term solution and the best long term solution is reducing the amount of mercury and other persistent toxic substances in our environment.

Areas of Concern and Lakewide Management Plans - Water Quality Board

The 41 remaining Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes need considerably more effective, priority effort by the governments if real progress is to be made in restoring the Great Lakes. Areas of Concern are geographic areas where there is greater environmental degradation than in other areas of the Great Lakes; areas which need cleaning up if the basic beneficial uses of the water are to be restored. The degradation represents a debt passed from previous generations to future generations as real as the fiscal debt. Since I included considerable material on this topic in my presentation in June, I will not spend more time on it today. I would just like to remind you that any program to deal with water policy cannot ignore the contaminants which have been dumped into our lakes and rivers over the past hundred years and are still being dumped, although in lesser amounts. Contaminants are still impacting the health of humans and the ecosystem.

Lake Erie - Water Quality Board

The Water Quality Board has been monitoring the troubling situations of the dead zone in Lake Erie and the outbreak of avian botulism. The research is still underway; there are no definitive answers - only hypotheses. From what we have been told it appears that the dead zone in the central part of Lake Erie is a recurring phenomena stemming from a combination of factors. However, it has become worse in recent years and that is believed to be linked to the lower lake levels and increased phosphorus.

Avian Type E botulism, which affects fish and the birds that eat them, may be linked to alien invasive species - zebra mussels, quagga mussels and the round goby. Water temperature is also believed to play a role. {Botulism is occurring mostly in Lake Erie but also somewhat in Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. The deaths usually peak in October and November so it is too early to say that this year has been better than the previous few years.}

Both these Lake Erie related issues underscore the importance of never relaxing our vigilance in monitoring and surveillance. The Great Lakes are dynamic systems requiring constant management. {At the recent Biennial Meeting, the Commission presented an award to Dr. Jan Ciborowski, University of Windsor, for his outstanding contributions to the Lake Erie Millennium Network and its assessment of ecosystem health. }

Urbanization: The Land Use - Water Quality Linkage - Science Advisory Board

{In the ten years from 1990 to 2000 the population of Chicago grew by almost 12 percent and a further 7 percent is expected in the next decade. In the five years from 1992 to 1997 the population of Toronto grew by 13.8 percent and the next 10 years it is expected to increase by a further 16 percent.} Of great concern is that the increase in population in the Great Lakes will be exceeded by the increase in urbanized land. This sprawling development trend will mean more sewage requiring treatment, more paved and roofed surfaces over which precipitation will rapidly flow and more airborne pollutant loadings from increased vehicle distance traveled. It is the impervious cover which comes with this kind of development which is of particular concern from a water quality perspective. One estimate is that two thirds of the impervious cover is >car habitat= - roads, parking lots, driveways.

{There are three principal ways in which urbanization changes surface water quality. First, increased loads to sewage treatment plants often result in bypasses of sewage directly into the water. Secondly, urban storm-water run-off from the impervious surfaces contains varying amounts of suspended solids, phosphorus and nitrogen (from lawn fertilizers and animal excrement), metals and PAHs from vehicle exhaust. The third way is from combined sewer overflows which mix the sewage and storm water. In heavy rain events the treatment facilities cannot handle the volume and overflow directly into surface water. }

The Commission=s Science Advisory Board will be continuing its work on this critical topic in an attempt to find ways that the urbanization and sprawl trends do not totally undermine all the progress to date.

{The Commission is also concerned about another land-use issue which is frequently in the newspapers - factory farms. Intense agricultural practices can contaminate both surface water and groundwater with heavy nutrient loads (phosphorus and nitrogen) if they are not properly regulated and managed. }

Climate Change: Impacts in the Great Lakes Basin - Water Quality Board

Much of the general discussion on climate change has been on mitigation or ways to reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Of equal importance is adaptation or ways to be prepared for the likely impacts of a changing climate. In this respect, the Commission=s Water Quality board has been looking at possible effects of climate change on the Great Lakes and determining their linkages with restoration activities. For example, higher or lower water levels due to climate change could greatly alter the usefulness of a created or preserved wetland. The sewage treatment plant upgrades and storm water management systems that are being designed need to consider the impact of different water levels on the efficiency of their operations. More frequent extreme storm events will couple with the increasing impervious surface just mentioned to cause real water quality problems from the run-off. Contaminated sediment may have an increased risk of being disturbed by natural or human events if dropping water levels brings it closer to the surface and allows contaminants to be re-suspended into the water column.

Alien Invasive Species

I discussed this issue at length when I met with you on June 5th. While none of the Boards were specifically examining this issue during the past cycle, the Commission as a whole was quite involved. Of particular concern is the ongoing potential for more introduction of alien invasive species from ballast water in ocean going ships entering the Great Lakes. {We are also actively involved in efforts to contain the Asian carp currently in the Illinois River and prevent it from getting into the Great Lakes through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal.} I hope you pass a resolution, as the Fisheries Committee has already done, recommending to governments that the IJC be given a reference to coordinate and harmonize binational efforts for action to stop this ongoing threat to the economy and the biological integrity of the Great Lakes.

Emerging Issues - All Boards

All the Commission=s Great Lakes Boards collaborated for a special workshop in February of this year, to identify issues of importance for the Great Lakes over the next 25 year horizon and to identify initiatives that represent the most promising future opportunities for sustaining progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. I will give you a few of the highlights from each of the five theme areas of the workshop and leave with you a copy of their report. It is also included in the consolidation of the reports of the Boards which I mentioned earlier.

  1. New Non Chemical Stressors - Impacting the Great Lakes basin ecosystem are invasive species, climate variability, increases in nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, habitat loss, and food web dynamics. Understanding the interconnections between physical, biological and chemical processes is the key to implementing a science based approach to decision making.
  2. New Chemicals Stressors - There are tens of thousands of chemicals currently in the market for which there is no assessment of potential risks to human health and the environment when they get into the air we breath or into the water column and then potentially into aquatic organisms and fish. Some which have been identified are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants), {perfluorosulfonates and carboxylates (PFOS), chlorinated paraffins and naphthalenes,} various pharmaceuticals and personal care products, phenolics and approximately twenty currently used pesticides.
  3. New Effects (of chemicals already studied) - For the chemicals which have been studied (e.g. PCBs, DDT, dioxins, mercury, toxaphene) there is increasing evidence of subtle but serious effects at ever lower quantities than previously suspected {and in other parts of the biological organization ranging from the cellular to the ecosystem level. The challenges are to identify these effects and to determine if there is a causal link between the observed effects and the substance.}
  4. Changing Ecology of the Great Lakes - The Great Lakes have undergone tremendous ecological change in the past 200 years of human development. They are slowly recovering from their degraded state but they will not be returning to their historic natural state at the time of the arrival of Europeans. A shared, long term vision for the lakes is needed to guide the management of the lakes. What is the objective in measurable terms? {An example of a long term management objective might be the establishment of a stable population of top predatory fish and fish eating birds as a prime indicator of sustainability.}
  5. New Policies - In the three decades of the Agreement the policy approaches have moved from regulatory, to pollution prevention, to the integration of the economy and environment. The precautionary principle has become established in both countries. The areas in which the Great Lakes region could be a policy leader are numerous such as a zero discharge standard for point sources or creative land-use policies. Currently, there are some coordinating mechanisms, such as the Binational Executive Committee of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, but there is no one institutional mechanism to consider and propose new policies on a binational basis for the Great Lakes.

From the discussion at the workshop it was evident that future problems of the Great Lakes will be continuations or permutations of those we are already aware of. { Such challenges include chemical contaminants, excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), climate change, invasive species, changes to the biological community and shoreline development and suburban sprawl. }

Based on this past work the Commission is currently defining its priority work for the next cycle, 2003 - 2005. One major activity will be providing advice regarding the review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. {This review by the governments is required following the release of the IJC=s 12th Biennial Report in 2004. Work will be continuing on alien invasive species, land use, human health and climate change. The need to overcome the obstacles to making progress in Areas of Concern will also form a large part of the Commission=s work.}

{With that I would like to ask Dennis Schornack, the Chair of the U.S. Section to describe for you some of the discussions and resulting conclusions from our recent biennial meeting in Ann Arbor and outline possible future initiatives for the Great Lakes basin.}

Chairman Dennis Schornack {could not attend, remarks given by Herb Gray}

{Chairman Caccia, I am honored to appear before this distinguished committee to brief you regarding the IJC=s recent Biennial Meeting and the Declaration we issued in Ann Arbor, Michigan, regarding the role of the IJC in the review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the possibilities for Canada and the United States to build on the success of the agreement and to bring it into the 21st century. Most importantly, I look forward to answering your questions.

For the commissioners, our recent biennial meeting was a three-day-long opportunity to meet citizens, scientists, activists, government officials, industry representatives, and other stakeholders from throughout the Great Lakes Basin. Holding the Biennial at one of the leading higher education institutions in the basin B the University of Michigan B added an air of civility to the forum as well. At this meeting, the IJC took a significant step forward toward re-establishing itself as the leading forum for dialogue on Great Lakes issues.

The first day was stakeholder day, including meetings with more than 40 people, representing 31 organizations B all focused on improving the health of a sustainable Great Lakes ecosystem. Topics of discussion included opposing concerns over lake levels from Georgian Bay Association and the Great Lakes Coalition, the increasing threat of invasive species from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, the need to protect jobs and navigation interests from the shipping industry, and most importantly how each of these organizations might play a role in the review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The next day was science day B nine workshops with expert scientists presenting the latest research on contemporary challenges facing the lakes B those detailed by Chairman Gray a few moments ago. These sessions reinforced the tradition of the IJC as science-based organization, and they gave the public a chance to question the best scientists in the basin face-to face and in front of their peers.

The last day was synthesis day.} The focus of this event was to recognize the strong and growing momentum within the Great Lakes basin B particularly on the U.S. side B for a major restoration initiative for the Great Lakes. Participants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Canada, Great Lakes United, mayors, governors and industry gave presentations on their plans for Great Lakes restoration.

Of intense interest from participants was a report from Congressional representatives regarding pending legislation in both the U.S. House and Senate B proposals of the same magnitude as the $7 billion budgeted by the U.S. government to restore the Everglades. These two proposals have created a Abuzz@ around the basin that the stars and planets are lining up for a major restoration initiative to become a reality especially on the U.S. side of the border.

{The objective of these discussions was to identify the common elements of the various Great Lakes restoration plans. As part of that effort, more than 150 key stakeholders were asked to list their top three priorities for Great Lakes restoration. They are as follows.

  1. The top priority was invasive species B considered one of the most critical threats to aquatic biodiversity in the Great Lakes and a major threat to our economy.
  2. Finishing the job on cleaning up sediment in Areas of Concern. In the U.S. we have the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which devotes more than $250 million over 5 years for the removal of contaminated sediment, and on this side of the border, you have the Canada Ontario Agreement supported by federal and provincial funding totaling $40 million over 5 years.
  3. Strengthening the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and improving its implementation, operation and accountability.}

The convergence of these many factors B the upcoming review of the Agreement, the 2005 review of the Canadian federal Great Lakes Program, public momentum for a major Great Lakes initiative, pending action by the U.S. Congress, and the growing public awareness of the threat of invasive species B present tremendous opportunities in the coming year for renewed incentives to restore the lakes.

What we heard at the Biennial Meeting was a broad-based consensus that the Agreement, which has not been updated since 1987, must be thoroughly reviewed because there are serious questions as to whether it addresses contemporary challenges to water quality in the Great Lakes and the health of the ecosystem.

In response, the IJC issued a Declaration, which we forwarded to the governments of the United States and Canada, in which we requested a special mandate from those governments to define a substantial and appropriate role for the commission in the review of the agreement.

The Agreement gives the IJC a very clear role in assessing progress toward restoring beneficial uses and in assisting the governments in achieving the goal of restoring the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes. However, the IJC=s role in the review is not well defined. Moreover, the Agreement gives the IJC the right to report at any time on issues it wishes to draw to the attention of the parties.

{Specifically, we see five key responsibilities that the IJC believes it should undertake:

First, our Great Lakes Water Quality Board could conduct an operational review of the agreement focusing on the linkage between the Agreement and the ability of agencies to implement its provisions.

Second, our Science Advisory Board could conduct an intensive review of the scientific underpinnings of the agreement, detailing what language remains relevant and what language need updating, based on changes in knowledge and ecological conditions.

Third, the commission can act as a conduit to the public, providing a forum for the many stakeholder organizations to provide their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the agreement and on the process for the review.

Fourth, the commission could offer advice on how best to conduct the review. For example, should nongovernmental organizations be observers? Who should be the test bed for new ideas? What role should states and provinces play since they are the primary implementers? Should cities be at the table?

And fifth, the commission could provide guidance on our role with respect to the agreement and how we might improve coordination across the border, build public support and speed the process of restoration.}

Therefore, our request to this committee is straightforward and blunt: First, that you acknowledge the consensus around the basin that a serious and thorough review of the agreement must be conducted; and second, that by the end of the year, the IJC receive a specific mandate from the government of Canada to fulfill the five responsibilities I detailed a moment ago.

The IJC B and more importantly the people who live, work and recreate in the basin deserve a clear indication from the governments that they are committed to the review, that they want our advice and that they will act upon it.

Thank you and I look forward to answering your questions.

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