International Joint Commission
Fall 2004
Volume 29, Issue 3

IJC assesses efforts to restore Great Lakes water quality

In its recently released Twelfth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality, the IJC questions whether current programs are sufficient to protect Great Lakes water quality from the effects of sustained expansion of major urban areas. The report also points to the need for new monitoring tools and coordinated action to protect public health from microbial contaminants in drinking water. In addition, the IJC finds that aquatic invasive species and chemical contamination pose continuing threats to the Great Lakes basin ecosystem and that binational research efforts to understand the causes of ecological degradation in Lake Erie must continue.

Every two years, the IJC provides a comprehensive assessment of progress toward achieving the goals of the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. The two federal governments must perform a comprehensive review of the Agreement itself after every third biennial report. The Twelfth Biennial Report marks the beginning of the Agreement review process.

The report identifies impacts from urban growth to surface and groundwater quality and notes the potential for climate change to increase polluted runoff, particularly from urban areas. Further development and implementation of best practices to manage urban growth and runoff are recommended. Microbial contaminants come from agricultural activities, sewage overflows, leaking septic tanks and other sources. The reasons for IJC's concern over drinking water safety include the fact that neither country monitors directly for microbial contaminants of concern and that major upgrades are needed to drinking and wastewater infrastructure across the basin. The IJC recommends coordinated planning efforts to fully protect drinking water.

Copies of the Twelfth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality are available from the IJC's three offices, or online at

All Eyes Focus on the Great Lakes

By Hon. Dennis Schornack and the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray, U.S. and Canadian IJC co-chairs

With the publication of our 12th Biennial Report, the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada begin the process of reviewing the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) as the Agreement requires. At the same time, in the U.S., the new Great Lakes Interagency Task Force is getting up to speed, now coordinating the efforts of ten federal agencies to restore the lakes while funding plans have been introduced in the U.S. Congress. In Canada, the eight federal departments engaged in the Canadian Federal Great Lakes Program aim to renew their commitment to a healthy and sustainable Great Lakes basin in 2005. On both sides of the border, city mayors, state governors, tribal leaders and citizen activists, are all engaging in discussions over how to translate priorities and plans for restoration into action.

The IJC is heartened by the surge in interest in both countries in Great Lakes restoration and believes that the process of reviewing GLWQA will set the stage for a new era of binational cooperation to restore the Great Lakes. Since the review is so important, the Commission will be holding a series of consultations with interested stakeholders throughout the basin, culminating in our Biennial Meeting in Kingston, Ontario next June. By involving environmental groups, agricultural interests and industry, along with recreational boaters, anglers and others who love the lakes, the result will be recommendations that have won broad support across a wide spectrum of viewpoints.

Great Lakes restoration is a big project that involves a big commitment of time and resources from both the U.S. and Canada. We urge both nations to follow a path that builds consensus on restoration measures, resources and timing through public engagement because that's the only path to big results.

Honouring Scientific Excellence: IJC Biennial Award for Great Lakes Science

Dr. Gail Krantzberg, Great Lakes Regional Office director

I believe that the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is essentially a pollution control and elimination tool. This is because chemical impacts on the lakes were the issues best understood when it was developed and revised in the 1970s and 1980s. Our expanded understanding of threats to the health of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem - from the loss of species and spaces to climate change, aging infrastructure and more - requires that we appraise current programs and policies.

The Great Lakes scientific community, which continues to unravel the complex interactions of multiple stressors, needs to be part of the debate on the future of the Agreement. As scientific understanding evolves, I believe we have an obligation to question our future governance structures and rules of accountability. This form of investigative inquiry could be the key to reinvigorating efforts to restore the Great Lakes.

The IJC regards scientific input into the review to be vitally important. What is science telling us about the effectiveness of past programs and the design of future policy? We need the scientific community to concentrate on the opportunity for renewal, to forge a firm linkage between science and policy. I cannot help but recall the famous words of Molière: it is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do. There is the challenge.

To help advance the appreciation that scientific excellence is imperative for Great Lakes renewal, the IJC will be issuing its second biennial award for scientific excellence at the Biennial Meeting on Great Lakes Water Quality in June 2005. Please participate in our Call for Nominations for the IJC Biennial Award for Great Lakes Science ( The science-policy interface has never been more critical. Our Biennial Award Winner will receive a special prize. Besides this, I believe raising the importance of science in our complex regime of institutions is a priceless step towards making the Lakes Great.

Water quality concerns examined in Lake Champlain's Missisquoi Bay

In May 2004, the Canadian and U.S. federal governments asked the IJC to provide advice on whether plans by the State of Vermont to modernize the Alburg-Swanton Bridge comply with provisions of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 regarding pollution to the injury of health or property in Canada or the United States. The bridge crosses the waters connecting Missisquoi Bay with the rest of Lake Champlain.

Excessive phosphorus inputs from the watershed in Vermont and Quebec have made Missisquoi Bay one of the most eutrophic areas of Lake Champlain. Area residents have long suspected that the causeway for the bridge restricts water circulation between Missisquoi Bay and the Northeast Arm of the lake. A new bridge on piers will be built immediately south of the existing bridge. The project involves removal of the old drawbridge and partial removal of the existing causeway. However, permits for the project require that most of the existing causeway be left in place because it provides habitat for the spiny softshell turtle, a state-listed endangered species in Vermont. The species is similarly protected by legislation in Quebec.

Quebec and Vermont are also working cooperatively to reduce phosphorus loading to Missisquoi Bay from point and nonpoint sources in the watershed under an 2002 agreement.

The IJC appointed an International Missisquoi Bay Task Force, with two members from each country, to review available information regarding the Alburg-Swanton Bridge project. Together with its Task Force, the IJC held public meetings in the area in August. The IJC will also hold public hearings in the watershed prior to completing its report in Fall 2004. More information about the IJC and its International Missisquoi Bay Task Force can be found at

IJC consults with public on apportionment of the St. Mary and Milk rivers

Use of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers in the state of Montana and provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan was one of the issues that led to the negotiation of the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty. Article VI of the treaty provides for apportionment of these two rivers to be made by two accredited officers - one Canadian and one American, under the direction of the IJC. In 1921, the IJC issued an Order directing how the measurement and apportionment of these waters would take place.

In 2003, the state of Montana asked the IJC to review the procedures used by the Accredited Officers to measure and apportion water from the two rivers in accordance with the 1921 Order, and determine whether or not the procedures need to be revised. The IJC is considering how to respond to that request. As part of that process, IJC Commissioners visited the basin and held public consultations in July 2004 to improve their understanding of current issues and concerns surrounding the use of St. Mary and Milk River water.

Copies of all letters received by the IJC, and other background information, are available online at Go to the "Boards" page and click on "Accredited Officers for the St. Mary and Milk rivers."

Stakeholders weigh in on Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study

From August 12 until September 17, in 15 cities across Ontario, Quebec and New York State, the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study Board continued a unique set of public consultations that will likely lead to new orders of approval regulating water levels in the system.

The meetings, organized by members of the Public Interest Advisory Group and with support from the Ottawa and Buffalo Study offices, each began with a brief overview of the key information gathered to this point, the middle of the fourth year in the Study. The presentation was followed by an open question and answer period with participants from the Study Board, Public Interest Advisory Group and Technical Work Groups hearing about concerns and answering questions.

The original criteria for the system were created in 1956 to regulate water levels in the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River system. Increasingly, deviations were permitted to accommodate the needs of system stakeholders.

The meetings have heard predominantly from those with concerns about the environment, erosion, recreational boating, tourism and industrial water uses. The Study Board will make a report to the IJC by the end of December 2005.

Review completed of recommendations to protect Great Lakes water supplies

When NOVA, a firm in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario received a permit from the province of Ontario to export Lake Superior water in 1998, it generated a great deal of public concern in the Great Lakes community. Some asked if we were investing millions of dollars to restore the Great Lakes only to sell the water to the highest bidder. While the firm had not identified any customers, and the permit was eventually cancelled, the incident focused attention on the need for consistent, effective policies to protect Great Lakes water supplies.

In August of this year, the IJC released a report that reviews the recommendations it made in February 2000 to the integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

While the new IJC report does not find, at present, any active proposals for diversions outside the Great Lakes basin, except to communities on the edge of the basin, it notes that this situation could change. Moreover, the increasing demands for water to supply the needs of these near-basin communities, and potential future demands for diversions to other parts of the continent, make it urgent for governments to carry out the recommendations in the Commission's 2000 report.

The new report describes legislative actions taken in both countries to protect against diversions and notes work still underway by the Great Lakes states and provinces to develop standards and procedures to manage water withdrawals and use. Despite this progress, the IJC voices concern over the slow pace to implement conservation measures by governments at all levels and continuing deficiencies in water use data. Unsustainable use of groundwater is also of particular concern to the IJC. In southeastern Wisconsin, pumping has actually reversed the flow of groundwater so that it no longer recharges Lake Michigan.

In conclusion, the IJC finds that a great deal of work still needs to be done to achieve sustainable management of Great Lakes water supplies for the benefit of present and future generations. Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes: Review of the Recommendations in the February 2000 Report is available online at

2005 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting Queen's University -- Kingston, Ontario June 9-11, 2005

Join the IJC at the Great Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting and hear Dr. David Suzuki give the keynote address on Friday evening.

David Suzuki PhD, chair and founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. Dr. Suzuki has received consistently high acclaim for his thirty years of award-winning work in broadcasting, explaining the complexities of science in a compelling, easily understood way. He is well known to millions as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's popular science television series, The Nature of Things.

An internationally respected geneticist, Dr. Suzuki was a full professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver from 1969 until his retirement in 2001. He is professor emeritus with UBC's Sustainable Development Research Institute. Dr. Suzuki has received numerous awards for his work, including a UNESCO prize for science, a United Nations Environment Program medal and the Order of Canada. He has 15 honorary doctorates from universities in Canada, the United States and Australia. For his work in support of Canada's First Nations people, Dr. Suzuki has received many tributes and has been honoured with five names and formal adoption by two tribes.


IJC welcomes recent appointments to its boards and expresses our gratitude to those who contributed their time and talent to assist Canada and the United States with managing transboundary environmental issues.

International Rainy Lake Board of Control
International Lake of the Woods Board of Control
International Red River Board
International Souris River Board

We welcome:
Colonel Michael F. Pfenning
District Engineer
St. Paul District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

International Rainy Lake Board of Control
International Lake of the Woods Board of Control
International Red River Board
International Souris River Board

Completing service:
Colonel Robert L. Ball
District Engineer
St. Paul District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

What's Happening

Contact an IJC office or visit the individual board website at for specific times and places of the following public meetings.

September 22, 2004
International Niagara Board of Control Public Meeting
Buffalo, New York

October 25-29, 2004
International Kootenay and Osoyoos Lake Boards of Control Public Meeting
Bonners Ferry, Idaho and Oroville, Washington

June 9-11, 2005
2005 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting
Join the IJC in Kingston for three days of workshops, discussion and debate on the review by Canada and the United States of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Hot off the press

Twelfth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality. In this report to the governments of the U.S. and Canada, the IJC highlights key issues for all that live in the Great Lakes region, and makes specific recommendations relating to the effects of urbanization on our lakes; threats associated with alien aquatic invasive species; pathogens and disease-bearing microbial contaminants in drinking water sources; chemical contamination, methyl mercury and human health; and the recent ecological changes taking place in Lake Erie.

Preventing a Hostile Takeover: Asian Carp in the Great Lakes is a new six-minute video produced by the IJC and Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Scenes of the Illinois River portray the spread of silver and bighead carp, while experts describe the threat these species pose to the Great Lakes. Available on CD-ROM and DVD formats from any IJC office.

Stay in the loop! The fastest way to receive updates about new IJC reports and to receive IJC's FOCUS newsletter is by email. To register, email

Focus on the Web

Welcome to the second, all electronic, issue of FOCUS

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Contact Us

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
Nick Heisler
  Lisa Bourget
Frank Bevacqua
Public Affairs
  Dr. Gail Krantzberg
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   202.467.7046   519.257-6740

Telephone   613.995.2984   202.736.9000   519.257.6700

Home Page


  Dennis L. Schornack
U.S. Section Chair 

Irene Brooks

Allen Olson

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.