International Joint Commission

United States and Canada

Restoring the Greatness
2003 Great Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting

Ann Arbor, Michigan, September 20, 2003 - Today, the Commissioners of the International Joint Commission concluded their two-day Great Lakes Conference and Biennial Meeting with a commitment to assist the Canadian and United States governments with their forthcoming review of the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. They heard from numerous leaders and citizens in the Great Lakes Basin that Canada and the United States need to develop a reinvigorated program to restore the integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem and to commit to the full implementation of that program.

Over the last two days workshop participants explored a wide range of challenges facing the Great Lakes such as climate change, urbanization, alien invasive species, habitat restoration and mercury impacts. Several organizations, including governments, presented their views of how the restoration of the Lakes would benefit from a clear vision.

In public recognition of the importance of science to restoration initiatives, Commissioners, for the first time, presented a Biennium Award for Great Lakes Science to Dr. Jan Ciborowski, a renowned professor at the University of Windsor, Ontario, affiliated with the Great Lakes Institute. His research on the dynamics of Lake Erie and his establishment of the Lake Erie Millennium Network have made a significant contribution to our understanding and management of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

Over the two days, Commissioners noted that scientific knowledge and ecological conditions have changed dramatically over the 30-year history of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, that many of the Specific Objectives and Annexes need updating to be relevant to achieving the agreement goals; and that new challenges to the waters of the entire ecosystem must be addressed.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement has been a landmark agreement that has served as a blueprint for cooperation and coordination of successful stewardship of the Great Lakes for more than 3 decades. It requires that the governments of Canada and United States review the agreement after every third biennial report from the IJC (every six years). The 1978 version of the agreement has not been updated or modified since the addition of the 1987 protocol.

The convergence of several factors: the need to review the Agreement after the issuance of the 12th Biennial Report in 2004, the growing interest in the U.S. Congress for a major Great Lakes restoration initiative and the potential renewal of the Canadian federal Great Lakes Program in 2005, make this an ideal time for a review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. With this review we can reinvigorate the restoration of this priceless resource.

The Commission will be advising the governments of Canada and the United States on aspects of the Agreement that need revision and identifying issues not currently included in the Agreement. The Commission will consider, and recommend to the governments, the reporting required to track progress, the establishment of effective implementation mechanisms and how best to maintain accountability to the public. The Commission will be issuing a special report detailing our advice to governments.

In their concluding remarks the Commissioners committed that, in developing advice and recommendations to governments on possible revisions to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, they will consult with a broad cross section of Basin representatives and will consider the broadest possible array of perspectives. Finally, the commissioners agreed to request a special mandate from the governments of Canada and the United States defining a "substantial" role for the commission in the review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.


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