International Joint Commission
States and Canada
September 10, 2003
and Progress under the Great Lakes
Water Quality Agreement
from the IJC
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In preparation for its 2003 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial
Meeting and the writing of its Twelfth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water
Quality , the IJC today, released the 2001-2003 Priorities and Progress under the Great
Lakes Water Quality Agreement , authored by its advisory boards on the
Great Lakes .
The International Joint Commission is responsible for evaluating
the governments’ progress in implementing Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement,
identifying unmet challenges, and recommending solutions. It relies on the work and investigations
of its boards and on public consultation .
The report covers four specific priority issues investigated
by the IJC’s boards, including: mercury; Remedial Action Plans; urbanization and
the water quality linkage; and climate change impacts in the Great
Lakes basin. In addition,
the boards investigated emerging issues for the Great Lakes in
the 21 st century. This Priorities Report conveys a wealth
of information and state-of-the-art analyses of select research, scientific and
policy arenas fundamental for advancing stewardship of the Great Lakes
The boards authoring the report are the Water Quality Board,
Science Advisory Board, Council of Great Lakes Research Managers and the International
Air Quality Advisory Board. In addition to detailing their work on each issue,
the boards also provide valuable advice and recommendations to the International
Joint Commission for its use in writing the Twelfth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water
Quality , providing official advice to the governments of Canada
and the United
The Commission’s request that its boards focus on mercury has
proved most timely, as large reductions in emissions from coal fired utilities
are now under consideration in both the United States and Canada. The report contains the most current science
surrounding mercury, compelling evidence of its neurotoxic properties, and an
expose on the risks associated with consumption of contaminated fish. To guide
the formulation of programs and policies that could reduce the inputs of mercury
to the basin ecosystem, the complex atmospheric dynamics of mercury are discussed
A chapter on Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) explores the question
of how to accelerate RAP implementation and consequently, the restoration of beneficial
uses. Specific advice and recommendations
contained in the report on the design and execution of RAPs should illuminate
all readers, particularly those associated with an Area of Concern.
The 2001-2003 Priorities Report also deals with urbanization
and the complex land use - water quality linkages. Urbanization threatens Great
Lakes water quality by pollutants in waste water discharges and excessive
stormwater flows; and causes beach closings and impaired recreational water quality
and the destruction of wetlands. The IJC boards explore water quality impacts
and policy implications surrounding the reality of growth and the necessity to
preserve the quality of life. The report provides intriguing examples
of innovative principles to guide policy development and implementation.
The fundamental questions being explored under the issue of
climate change concern the types of water quality impacts that might be the consequence
of more severe storm events and warmer temperatures, how the impacts might vary
across Great Lakes regions, and the implications for decision making and planning
to respond to or mitigate the impacts. The importance of climate change on ground
water resources is particularly noted, in light of drought conditions, low precipitation
and increasing average temperatures. These themes are not often front and center
in the minds of basin residents and are particularly foreboding.
The outcome of an expert consultation on emerging issues in
the Great Lakes is also included in the report. A compelling, perhaps unanticipated finding,
was that while there are clearly many threats to the health of the basin ecosystem,
no new, previously unknown threats to the Great Lakes were
identified by the scientific experts consulted. Specific findings and recommendations
emphasize the need for greater binational institutional capacity, reinvigorated
management and governance structures to fully implement an ecosystem approach
to the protection and restoration of the lakes, a clear and unmistakable call
for leadership and coordination.
Detailed information from the boards is also included on a
range of other topics that are brought together to enlighten and advise the Commission
and the reader. Current research into the changing dynamics in Lake
Erie and outbreaks of botulism are described. Health implications
of persistent toxic chemicals are reviewed. In particular, the finding that PCB levels
in the waters and in Great Lake fish must decrease by one to three orders in magnitude
to achieve state and federal public health is a call for action.
We also learn of the latest research and research needs regarding the sources
and effects of pathogens and new chemicals of concern are presented.
All these topics are highly relevant if our efforts to understand, protect
and enhance the majesty of the Great Lakes are to be successful.
Everyone who is concerned with the future of the Great
Lakes is encouraged to attend the 2003 Conference, participate in
discussions and comment on the work and recommendations of the IJC and its advisory
boards. Information received from
this meeting and recommendations made in this report contribute to the insight,
advice and recommendations that the IJC provides to the governments of Canada
and the United
About the Authors
The principal advisor to the IJC, the Water Quality Board comprises 20 program
managers and administrators from the two federal governments, the eight states
and two provinces in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River
basin. The Science Advisory Board , whose 18 members
represent a broad range of disciplines, provides scientific advice to both the
IJC and Water Quality Board.
The Council of Great
Lakes Research Managers has 23 members who provide advice related to the coordination
and evaluation of Great Lakes research efforts.
Given the significance of the air as a pathway by which contaminants reach
the waters of the Great Lakes , the IJC relies on the 10
members of its International Air Quality Advisory Board
to provide advice in this regard.
The 2003 IJC Great
Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting will be held on Friday and Saturday, September 19-20, 2003 in
. A series of nine workshops on Friday will
focus on the latest scientific thinking and policy responses to protect and improve
human and ecosystem health, including invasive species, mercury pollution, urbanization,
habitat destruction and rehabilitation, impacts of climate change on ecosystem
quality, water use and more. See http://www.ijc.org/ for more information, events
About the International Joint Commission
Joint Commission prevents and resolves disputes between the United States and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and pursues
the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the
In particular, the
IJC assists the two countries in the protection of the transboundary environment,
including the implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the
improvement of transboundary air quality; and it alerts the governments to emerging
issues along the boundary that may give rise to bilateral disputes.
The IJC rules upon applications for approval of projects affecting boundary
or transboundary waters and regulates the operation of these projects.
For further information
– please contact Jennifer Day at 519-257-6733 or http://www.ijc.org/en/contacts/contacts.htm.