International Joint Commission
Autumn 2000
Volume 25, Issue 3

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.

In its 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:

Contaminated Sediment

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.

The 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 Canadian Government.

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 water resource.

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:

Michael Brauer
Associate Professor, School of Occupational and Environmental
Hygiene and Department of Medicine Respiratory Division
at the University of British Columbia
International Air Quality Advisory Board
Lynn Cleary
Director, Information Management and Dissemination Section
Environment Canada, Centre Saint-Laurent
Council of Great Lakes Research Managers
And we thank those who have finished their service
Charlotte Bastien
Director, Information Management and Dissemination Section
Environment Canada, Centre Saint-Laurent
Council of Great Lakes Research Managers


Hot Off the Press

For the full text of IJC reports, click on the publications button at or go to the specific web site below. Limited numbers of hard copies are also available from the IJC at (519)257-6734 in Canada, (313)226-2170 ext. 6734 in the United States, and by email.

IJC's Tenth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality cites 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 as major concerns in the new report. .

IJC 1999 Great Lakes Water Quality Forum Transcripts from the September 24-26 meeting held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are available online. In particular, we draw your attention to the transcript of the Municipal Caucus - Land Management: A Tool to Protect the Great Lakes.

What's Happening

Public meetings of the IJC and its boards:

September 26, 2000

Osoyoos Lake Board of Control Public Meeting, Oroville, Washington

October 2, 2000

Kootenay Lake Board of Control Public Meeting, Bonners Ferry, Idaho

October 4-5, 2000

Great Lakes Science Advisory Board Workshop on Methodologies for Assessing Community Health in AOC's, Windsor, Ontario

October 6, 2000

Great Lakes Science Advisory Board Meeting, Windsor, Ontario

November 1-2, 2000

Great Lakes Water Quality Board , Quebec City, Quebec

November 8-9, 2000

Second Delta/ International Air Quality Advisory Board workshop on Atmospheric Modeling and Policy -- in conjunction with the Lake Michigan Forum, St. Joseph, Michigan

November 29-30, 2000

Great Lakes Science Advisory Board Meeting and Niagara River RAP Status Assessment, Niagara Falls, Ontario


Stay in Contact

The IJC is interested in your views on any of our activities. You may contact us in the following ways:

  United States
  Great Lakes Regional Office

Contacts   Murray Clamen
Fabien Lengellé
Public Affairs
  Gerald Galloway
Frank Bevacqua
Public Affairs
  Tom Behlen
Jennifer Day
Public Affairs


Mail   234 Laurier Avenue West
22nd Floor
Ottawa, ON
K1P 6K6
  1250 23rd Street NW
Suite 100
Washington, DC 20440
  100 Ouellette Avenue, 8th Floor
Windsor, ON
N9A 6T3
P.O. Box 32869
Detroit, MI 48232-2869

Fax   613.993.5583   202.736-9015   519.257-6740

Telephone   613.995.2984   202.736.9000   519.257.6700

Home Page


  Thomas Baldini,
U.S. Section Chair

Alice Chamberlin

Susan Bayh

Leonard Legault,
Canadian Section Chair

Robert Gourd


The International Joint Commission prevents and resolves disputes between the United States of America and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and pursues the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the two governments.