IJC Advises Governments That Greater Efforts Are Needed or Great Lakes
Agreement May Fail
In 1978, the United States and Canadian governments made an historic commitment
to restoring the water quality of the Great Lakes. The
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
calls for restorating and maintaining the integrity of the waters of the Great
Lakes basin ecosystem. The IJC is tasked with assessing the governments'
progress toward this goal every two years.
Tenth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality
released in July, the IJC concludes that it is clear that unless the United
States and Canadian governments take the actions the Commission now recommends,
they will fail to achieve the purpose they set for themselves in 1978.
The cleanup of contaminated sediment, human health concerns from eating
contaminated Great Lakes fish, air deposition of persistent toxic substances,
urban land use, and monitoring and information needs are cited as major
concerns in the new report. The IJC feels that the power of the vision captured
in the Agreement has not been reflected in the two governments' implementation
efforts. Although progress has been made, governments have not committed
adequate funding or, more importantly, taken the decisive actions required to
ensure that the citizens of both countries can safely swim in, drink water and
eat fish from the Great Lakes.
The IJC makes direct recommendations regarding the following concerns:
Persistent toxic substances found in contaminated sediment are the dominant
issue in Areas of Concern (AOCs). Less than 2.4 percent of known contaminated
sediment by volume in the U.S. AOCs has been remediated, while in Canada, the
amount is only 0.2 percent. Sediment remediation is a large scale, high cost
problem throughout the Great Lakes basin. Federal, provincial and state
governments should immediately develop a comprehensive program, which sets
priorities and timetables and provides the resources for completion of
remediation in each AOC.
Contaminated Sport Fish
The IJC has some concerns about the injury to human health from exposures to
contaminants in Great Lakes fish. It also views fish consumption advisories as
only an interim solution and one that could be more effective. The IJC
recommends that provincial and state governments require that sport fish
consumption advisories state plainly that eating certain Great Lakes sport fish
may lead to birth anomalies and other serious health problems for children and
women of child-bearing age. These advisories need to be addressed and
distributed directly to women, and they need to clearly identify fish to be
totally avoided in the light of the precautionary approach.
Airborne Toxic Substances
The federal governments should identify both in-basin and out-of-basin sources
of atmospheric deposition of persistent toxic substances, and use this
information to formulate and implement appropriate prevention and control
measures. The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy must be strengthened to
address fully the issue of airborne toxic substances.
The impervious surfaces of cities, towns and suburbs increase runoff, which can
contain nutrients, pathogens, sediment, industrial chemicals and pesticides,
into waterways. The increased runoff can exacerbate erosion and flooding and
also threaten groundwater. Although measures have been taken in specific
locations, governments at all levels must give adequate attention to the issue
of urban sprawl.
Alien Invasive Species
These species, such as zebra mussels, are most often introduced through the
release of ballast water from ships. The federal governments should adopt and
implement a binational ballast water research strategy, and ask the IJC to
develop binational standards for discharges of ballast water and the most
appropriate methods for implementing those standards.
Monitoring and Information Management
Without data and information from a full range of sustained and consistent
environmental monitoring and surveillance programs, the governments, the public
and the IJC are not in a position to identify issues that threaten human and
ecosystem health, to choose effective solutions, and to assess whether progress
toward restoration and protection is being achieved. Federal, provincial and
state governments should develop and maintain the full range of coordinated
monitoring and surveillance programs necessary to enable them to fulfill their
commitments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and adopt a
binational information policy to support implementation of the Great Lakes
Water Quality Agreement.
Tenth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality
is available at
or from any IJC office.
Join Us in Montreal!
The IJC cordially invites you to participate in our 2001 Great Lakes Water
Quality Forum to take place in Montréal, Quebec, September 14-15, 2001.
This biennial Forum is truly a forum for the Great Lakes and the people who
care about their future. Our goal is to provide a format that energizes the
Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River community groups to work in partnership with
the IJC and governments at all levels to carry out the purposes of the Great
Lakes Water Quality Agreement. It is a forum for the people of the basin to
come together and celebrate progress, assess and question current action,
discuss new and emerging issues regarding the cleanup and restoration of the
Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River System, and share the successes and mutually
tackle the road blocks toward restoration of Areas of Concern.
The mighty St. Lawrence
The IJC encourages your input and participation during the planning of the
forum. We want our forum to include a wide spectrum of organizations and
institutions that can share knowledge with and among participants. We would be
very interested in learning about innovative approaches and successful efforts
by citizen groups, industry, educators, native Americans/First Nations, labor,
governments at all levels and others to restore and maintain the integrity of
the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. If your organization would like to be
involved, or if you know of any such efforts, please contact the IJC's Great
Lakes Regional Office at 519-257-6734 in Canada or at 313-226-2170 ext. 6734 in
the United States.
IJC Receives U.S. Funding for Water Levels Study
In July the IJC received initial funding to study water levels and flows in
Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The $2.15 million supplemental
appropriation provides the U.S. share for the first year of the five-year
study. The Canadian Section of the IJC is currently seeking funding from the
The study will review the criteria for regulating Lake Ontario outflows set by
the IJC in 1956 in its Orders of Approval for the hydro-electric project that
spans the St. Lawrence River at Massena, New York and Cornwall, Ontario. Review
of the criteria has become increasingly urgent because some interests are
dissatisfied with the working of the system and because environmental concerns
and climate change issues have not been addressed. However, the IJC recognizes
that the study may not resolve all the issues or result in significant
additional benefits for any interest group.
Initial efforts will focus on gathering data needed for technical analyses and
on involving the public in the study.
IJC Combines its Boards within Watersheds
For many years the IJC has been encouraging the use of ecosystem approaches for
dealing with issues along the U.S.-Canadian border. For its own part, the IJC
and its many advisory boards and boards of control have been exploring
different ways of sharing information, involving the public and working
together on issues of common concern.
One approach the IJC has been exploring recently is combining its existing
boards that operate within the same watershed so that water quality, water
quantity and aquatic ecosystem health issues might be addressed in a more
integrated fashion. To date the IJC has combined its boards in the St. Croix,
Red and Souris river basins. There is also some consideration being given to
combining its two boards in the Rainy Lake-Rainy River watershed.
In the St. Croix River basin the Board of Control and the Pollution Advisory
Board have been working in an increasingly cooperative fashion for several
years. Both boards were recently involved in an assessment of the need to
modify the IJC's St. Croix Orders of Approval in response to concerns raised by
local residents. The two boards also regularly hold joint annual public
meetings. The union of these two boards will provide the IJC with a more
integrated perspective on issues in the basin that impact the shared boundary
The Woodland dam on the St. Croix river
The IJC has also been assigned several responsibilities by the governments in
the Souris River and Red River basins. It has been asked to investigate and
report on a variety of water quantity issues such as water needs and uses and
the potential for projects in transboundary streams that would benefit both
countries. In the Souris River basin, the IJC oversees the apportionment of
water as approved by the Canadian and U.S. governments. In the Red River basin,
the IJC monitors water quality at the border and recommends new water quality
objectives as appropriate. To encourage a more integrated basin wide
perspective, the IJC has refocused these responsibilities along basin lines and
has established one advisory board in each basin, the International Souris
River Board and the International Red River Board. The boards will continue to
provide advice to the IJC on issues related to the transboundary environment.
As this issue of Focus is being prepared, the IJC is considering directives for
these institutions that will encompass all of the current responsibilities of
the former boards and ensure a more integrated approach to undertaking its
responsibilities in these river basins. Watch for additional information on the
IJC's web site.
2001 U.S. EPA Environmental Education Grants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announces its 2001 round of grants to
be awarded under the National Environmental Education Act. The grants support
environmental education projects that enhance the public's awareness, knowledge
and skills to make informed decisions that affect environmental quality. Since
1992, EPA has received between $2 and $3 million in grant funding per year and
has awarded about 1,700 grants. Grants of $25,000 or less are awarded in EPA's
ten regional offices, and grants of more than $25,000 are awarded at EPA
Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Applications are due in mid-November 2000.
Specific information about the application process and award history can be
obtained on the Internet at
or by contacting Jospehine Lageda at (212) 637-3674 or by email at
IJC welcomes the recent appointments
to its boards: