International Joint Commission
Autumn 2002
Volume 27, Issue 3


IJC releases Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality

In 1972 Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and pledged to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem to physical, chemical and biological health and maintain this shared but threatened environmental treasure for future generations. Progress has been made; however, achievement toward restoration has been slow and many challenges remain.

In the just-released Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality , the IJC highlights three critical issues our two nations must address in order to restore this world-class ecosystem: cleaning up sediment contaminated with toxic substances, preventing further introductions of alien invasive species, and improving the monitoring and reporting of ecosystem health, especially through the use of understandable ecological “indicators.”

The report warns that research continues to show toxic substances ranging from pesticides to heavy metals to PCBs continue to contaminate the Great Lakes ecosystem and can injure human health. The primary source is pollutants found in the sediment and the primary pathway for exposure is the consumption of fish.

In 1987, Canada and the U.S. agreed to attack the problem of highly polluted locations in a structured manner. Forty-three Areas of Concern were designated, with the understanding that each country would develop Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) to clean up and restore these areas to health. But progress has been slow, hampered by inadequate funding, a lack of leadership for RAP implementation, and in many cases, the sheer size of the problem - the Areas of Concern contain millions of cubic meters of contaminated sediment. We have often seen several years pass before remedial action is taken, even while research showing subtle but persistent human health injuries from eating contaminated fish, as well as impacts on fish, wildlife, and the ecosystem continue. Fifteen years of experience has proven that the current regulatory focus and funding are inadequate, and that the governments need to do far more.

Alien invasive species, transferred, from foreign ecosystems, can thrive in the Great Lakes, unhindered by any natural controls, such as predators they might confront in native ecosystems. Exploding zebra mussel populations, for instance, have caused millions of dollars of damage to water structures and great ecological harm, and they are only one of 160 non-indigenous species now inhabiting the system. The next alien species to enter the lakes could cause even greater damage. The U.S. and Canada have responded by developing regulations and procedures surrounding ballast water discharge from ships entering the ecosystem through the St. Lawrence River, because ballast water is the primary source of the threat. But risks remain because the majority of sips entering the Great Lakes system can legally claim “no ballast on board” and thereby are exempt from current regulation. However, they still harbour alien species in their “empty” ballast tanks, and in the bio-films contaminating hulls or anchor chains. In light of the high risk, we believe our two national governments must urgently take more aggressive steps to prevent future alien species introductions, including new rules and programs to assure that “no ballast on board” ships do not biologically contaminate our waters.

Finally, using measures of “Drinkability,” “Swimability,” and “Fishability,” it becomes clear that the Great Lakes remain a good source of treatable drinking water, but some areas remain unsafe for swimming and, in all of the five lakes, many fish are subject to restrictions on the quantity that may be eaten. These broad indicators of ecosystem health will help policy makers and the public track changes in environmental quality and allow regulatory agencies to report on them meaningfully. Because so many uncertainties about the ecological state of the lakes remain, funding for research and monitoring, using a variety of indicators, both broad and finely focused, needs to be increased.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement continues to stand out as a beacon to guide stewardship of this magnificent ecosystem. The benefits of investing in the largest freshwater ecosystem on earth clearly are compelling: our health, our economy and our environment will all profit. The IJC calls on the governments to intensify their work and their investments to protect our shared, unique, invaluable shared resource.



Second year of flooding for Rainy Lake

After seeing Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake rise in 2001 to their highest levels since 1968, basin residents in Minnesota and Ontario endured a second round of flooding in 2002.

June 2002 was one of the wettest months in northern Minnesota's history, with some northwestern Minnesota communities receiving in two days more than half the rainfall they would typically see in a year. Communities in Ontario were similarly affected. Swollen streams washed out roads and bridges and fed the larger lakes and rivers. The IJC ordered reduced outflows from Rainy Lake for a few days to allow the downstream town of Rainy River to fend off flooding from the Rainy River, then later ordered reduced outflows from Namakan Lake for a few weeks to ease flooding concerns downstream on Rainy Lake. Ultimately, Rainy Lake peak levels were significantly higher than in 2001 and well above the emergency levels defined by the IJC. Namakan Lake levels also peaked above the IJC-defined emergency levels, but at lower levels than seen last year. By the end of July, both lakes had returned to normal summer levels.

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A flooded dock, submerged mermaid sculpture,
and sunset view of Pine Island, Rainy Lake.
Credit (with thanks): Mary Lysne, Rainy Lake Conservancy

Some residents have questioned the impacts of the IJC's January 2000 adoptionof new operating rules for Rainy and Namakan Lake. The IJC adopted these new rules to continue to carry out its responsibilities for avoiding emergency conditions by instituting revised rule curves and other requirements that provide a careful balance between upstream and downstream concerns, and among the various interests, including environmental concerns, hydropower, flood risk and boating. The IJC's International Rainy Lake Board of Control, which played a very active role during the flood event, estimated that these new rule curves likely increased peak flood levels on Rainy Lake by about two inches. Holding back water to help out the town of Rainy River likely increased Rainy Lake levels by about one to two inches, while holding back water on Namakan Lake likely lowered Rainy Lake levels by about one inch. Recognizing that similar and more extreme rainfall events will occur again, the IJC and its board are continuing to examine issues related to flooding, flood impacts and preparing the community to manage future floods.



Join us in Ann Arbor!


Credit: University of Michigan
Credit: Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

The IJC cordially invites you to join us at our 2003 Biennial Meeting on Great Lakes Water Quality to take place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, September 19-20, 2003. This Biennial Meeting is truly a forum for the Great Lakes and the people who care about their future. Our goal is to provide a forum that energizes and educates the Great Lakes basin community to work together along with governments at all levels to carry out the purpose 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, and share successes and road blocks toward restoration of Areas of Concern. Meeting details will be posted on at www.ijc.org as soon as they are available.



IJC Commissioners alert governments to Asian carp threat


Credit: Andy Whitcomb

In July the IJC wrote to the U.S. and Canadian governments alerting them to a critical threat to the Great Lakes posed by species of an invasive fish, the Asian carp. Two species of Asian carp, the bighead carp and the silver carp are on the verge of entering Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. They have been found in abundance in the Illinois River and caught as far north as the confluence with the Kankakee River. Three species of carp, native to Siberia and China, were imported in the early 1970s for use in the aquaculture industry in Arkansas. The bighead and silver carp are used to control algae and the black carp is used to control snails in aquaculture ponds. During floods in the early 1990s, the silver and bighead carp escaped from aquaculture ponds and have rapidly multiplied in the Mississippi River watershed.

Asian carp are highly prolific; large adult females may each lay as many as a million eggs. They feed on plankton, consuming as much as 40 percent of their body weight in food each day, and grow extremely fast, reaching weights of 12 pounds n their first year. Adults can grow to approximately four feet long and reach maximum weights of 50 to 110 pounds. All are well suited to Great Lakes water temperatures and are highly likely to thrive in that environment. They compete directly with native plankton feeders and with virtually all species of young fish for food, quickly growing too large for native predators. In certain sections of the Mississippi River they have become the most common species of fish. The fish's unusual behavior of unexpectedly leaping six to eight feet into the air -- and at times landing in boats -- has attracted much attention; however the biggest threat from these fish is the disruption of the Great Lakes food chain and crowding out of native species.

The major barrier to invasive fish, such as Asian carp, entering the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin is an electrical dispersal barrier located in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville, Illinois. This barrier uses a micro-pulsed DC electric field. Barriers of this type have been used at power plants to deter fish from entering intakes and in irrigation canals to contain plant-eating grass carp. It became operational in April 2002 and preliminary tests show that the barrier is effective at stopping fish from crossing through. However, the existing barrier array is a temporary arrangement with electrode cables that are expected to last no longer than two or three years. At that time, the barrier will have to be shut off to replace the cables. There is also no emergency back-up power source to use in case of a power failure, so the risk of failure and fish getting through at this point is unacceptably high.

The IJC is urging the U.S. government to fund improvements to the existing barrier and for construction of a second barrier. In addition to calling for improvements to the existing barrier, the Commissioners stress the importance of public education to reduce the threat of introduction by other means such as intentional release of live fish imported for food and dumping of bait buckets. The IJC and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission hosted a roundtable discussion in Chicago on August 16, 2002 with experts from 15 different municipal, state and federal agencies. The experts examined the funding needs and critical steps required to halt the spread of Asian carp, and underscored the need for swift action. More information about this important initiative is posted on the IJC website at: http://www.ijc.org/rel/news/020711.html .



IJC Commissioner Jack Blaney receives award

On September 19, 2002, IJC Commission, Dr. Jack Blaney received the Order of British Columbia, which recognizes excellence by rewarding the accomplishments of outstanding British Columbians who have made a difference to the lives of its people and strengthened their shared heritage.



In Memorium

The International Joint Commission notes with sorrow the death of Dr. Gale Meyer , from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who served the Commission on its International Red River Board.



IJC board member Kathy Tonnessen
receives national research award

The National Park Service’s Director’s Award for Natural Resources Research was accorded to Kathy Tonnessen this summer for her pioneering studies on air pollutant deposition and for matching academic researchers with field research opportunities in Western national parks. Tonnessen, a member of the IJC’s International Air Quality Advisory Board, works for the National Park Service’s Air Resources Division and is stationed at the University of Montana in Missoula. Her work established the need for long-term monitoring of the air above parks in the U.S. and the need to pay attention to particular issues such as nitrogen levels.



People

IJC welcomes the recent appointments to its boards .

Luis Leigh
Director, Environment Economics Branch
Environment Canada
Council of Great Lakes Research Managers
Daniel Bondy
Director, National Wildlife Research Center
Canadian Wildlife Service
Council of Great Lakes Research Managers
Jacinthe Leclerc
Director, St. Lawrence Centre
Environment Conservation Branch
Council of Great Lakes Research Managers

Gerald F. Mikol
Director
New York State Department
of Environmental Conservation
Great Lakes Water Quality Board
David K. Ladd
Director of Michigan's
Office of the Great Lakes
Great Lakes Water Quality Board
James Snyder
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
Environment Division
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board
Kathy Peter
Idaho District Chief,
Water Resources Division
International Kootenay Lake
Board of Control
Col. Thomas L. Koning, U.S. Co-Chair
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
New England District
International St. Croix River Board
Marcel Lussier, PIAG Co-Chair
Environmental Advisor, Hydro Québec
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group

Scott Tripoli
Mannsville, N. Y.
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group

Larry Field
Toronto and Region
Conservation Authority
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group

And we thank those who have finished their service.
Col. Brian E. Osterndrof
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
New England District
International St. Croix River Board
Fredrick W. Kircheis
Executive Director
Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission
International St. Croix River Board
Darrell Cowing
Idaho District Chief, Water Resources Division
USGS
International Kootenay Lake
Board of Control
N. G. Kaul
Retired
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
Great Lakes Water Quality Board
Shawn Martin
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board
Fred Parkinson
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board

Dalton Foster
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board

International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group

Sally Sessler
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group
Bea Schermerhorn
International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence
Study Board - Public Interest Advisory Group



Hot Off the Press

The IJC’s Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality , assessing progress of the U.S. and Canada to restore and maintain the Great Lakes is available on the Internet at http://www.ijc.org/php/publications/html/11br/english/report/index.html or can be obtained on CD or in hard copy by contacting any IJC office.

The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study Board and the Public Interest Advisory Group (PIAG) have recently released Year 1 Progress Reports summarizing activities completed in the first year of the five-year water level study and capturing the public’s impressions, opinions and feedback. More information, including the full text of the reports, may be found on the Study’s website at: www.losl.org . Printed copies of the reports are also available by contacting Amanda Morelli in Canada at (613) 992-5727 or Arleen Kreusch in the U.S. at (716) 879-4438.



Contact Us

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



    Canadian
Section
  United States
Section
  Great Lakes
Regional Office

Contacts   Murray Clamen
Secretary
Fabien Lengellé
Public Affairs
  Gerald Galloway
Secretary
Frank Bevacqua
Public Affairs
  Dr. Gail Krantzberg
Director
Jennifer Day
Public Affairs

Email   Commission@ottawa.ijc.org   Commission@washington.ijc.org   Commission@windsor.ijc.org

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
or
P.O. Box 32869
Detroit, MI 48232-2869

Fax   613.993.5583   202.467.7046   519.257-6740

Telephone   613.995.2984   202.736.9000   519.257.6700
or
313.226.2170

Home Page www.ijc.org


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  Fax: (202) 467-0746

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Commissioners


       
  Dennis L. Schornack
U.S. Section Chair
Rt. Hon. Herb Gray
Canadian Section Chair

Robert Gourd

Jack Blaney

 
       


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.