International Joint Commission
United States and Canada

Priorities for Consideration by the
International Joint Commission for 2003-2005 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

What is a Priority?

Priorities are specific issues for study that provide a focus for the work of the International Joint Commission and its advisory boards under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. These priority studies enhance understanding and provide potential resolution to issues faced by the Parties to the Agreement -- the governments of Canada and the United States -- and the citizens of the Great Lakes basin. This work is not intended to substitute for the work of the Parties, but rather take advantage of the unique forum in which the IJC operates under the Agreement. Work efforts under chosen Priorities are afforded specific monetary and human resources of the IJC and are conducted in addition to the ongoing work of each advisory board under its mandate.

The following topics will be investigated in detail in 2003-2005:

Advice Regarding the Review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

A review of the Agreement by the Parties is required in 2004, pursuant to Article X, following the transmittal of the IJC’s Twelfth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality to the governments of Canada and the United States. The Boards intend to examine selected aspects over the next year to assist the Parties with the review. The IJC will:

  • provide comments on the purpose of the Agreement;
  • consult broadly with the public and with stakeholders;
  • examine state of the art science on Great Lakes ecosystem stressors and the ability to address such stressors under the current Agreement;
  • explore opportunities for program and policy reform and how such reform might be made operational by the Agreement;
  • review research management and coordination related to the agreement;
  • provide advice on institutional arrangements to improve the implementation of the Agreement;
  • suggest an open and transparent process to engage a broad cross section of the public in the review; and
  • assess which annexes would benefit from up-dating and how that might be done most effectively.

Urbanization and Hardened Surfaces

The trend over the past 20 to 30 years has been toward greater urbanization with its related increase in impervious cover. This trend is accelerating and producing profound negative effects on local ecosystems throughout North America. Some local, regional and state/provincial governments have embraced tools, such as watershed planning, urban growth boundaries and conservation design, with similar goals in mind. The IJC continues to be active on the urbanization issue by addressing specific issues associated with the impacts on water quality in the Great Lakes basin and transferring this knowledge to decision makers. The linkages between land use, unplanned growth, impacts on shoreline hardening, altered hydrologic regimes, implications for transportation and air quality, and climate change will be considered. Also to be considered are elements of a renewed effort related to the former reference given to the Commission regarding Pollution from Land Use Activities. The potential for climate change to exacerbate water quality impacts in urban centres will also be considered.

Human Health

In the context of waterborne pathogens, new risk factors to human health, such as newly identified sensitive populations, global transportation and antibiotic resistance, and wastewater treatment efficiency, have created a heightened awareness of the importance of new scientific knowledge in managing these risks. In addition, several new or relatively unknown classes of chemicals are emerging as potential water pollutants in the Great Lakes basin. These include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (such as fire retardants), various pharmaceuticals and personal care products and approximately 20 currently used pesticides that are a potential concern for human and ecosystem health. The IJC’s scientific assessment will identify priorities for future research and data needs, as well as assess policy implications of establishing action levels to protect human health based on multi-media exposure and the interactive effects of toxic substances, including PCBs, mercury, and the substances noted above. Where information is unknown or incomplete, the relevance of the precautionary principle will be considered.

Annex 2 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

There are existing institutional difficulties that have delayed the development and implementation of many Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) and Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs). Opportunities exist to clearly identify challenges and highlight mechanisms to overcome obstacles. The RAP and LaMP process must be expedited with efforts oriented toward achieving environmental improvements and restoring beneficial uses to make progress toward delisting Areas of Concern. Work under this priority will assist governments and RAP and LaMP implementers by identifying institutional opportunities for the timely implementation of plans. As appropriate, the IJC will undertake consultations and workshops to highlight potential remedies.

Atmospheric Transport of Mercury

Work will continue to model the sources and pathways of mercury from the atmosphere to receiving waters of the Great Lakes. Scenarios for abatement of mercury for various emissions will be examined and recommendations for policy consideration will be made.

A Great Lakes Research Strategy

The IJC, Government Accounting Office and the Auditor General have all recently highlighted the disjointed approach that has been taken to Great Lakes research and the need for coordination and leadership. As a separate initiative that will provide advice directly related to Annex 11 and 17 of the GLWQA, the Council proposes to develop an overarching research strategy that provides a framework for binational, regional collaboration. The Council will develop recommendations for mechanisms to engage individual agencies in the U.S. and Canada and bring resources in across the board to address large scale coordinated research needs. Recognizing that research and monitoring efforts are inextricably tied together, the Council proposes to work with the Great Lakes Commission on efforts to develop a Great Lakes Observing System, and will also explore the feasibility of holding a large scale lake wide research project to test the effectiveness of the strategy. The Council sees an opportunity for the Agreement to provide a binational strategy for research coordination. Accordingly, the Council proposes to bring together top administrators from the academic community, government agencies and business leaders to identify portions of the Agreement related to research that could be strengthened and to produce a recommended binational research coordination strategy.

Aquatic Invasive Species

In its Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality, transmitted to governments in 2001, the IJC states that despite more than a decade of national attention and regional action, the introduction and spread of aquatic alien invasive species continues to impair the biological integrity of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin ecosystem. Immediate federal action to mandate improved ballast water management procedures can reduce but not eliminate the biological and economic threat to this ecosystem from further introduction and spread of alien invasive species. The IJC has called on the governments of Canada and the United States to issue it a reference to coordinate and harmonize binational efforts for action to stop this ongoing threat to the biodiversity, biological integrity and the economy of the Great Lakes. Priority work under this topic will be specified should the governments provide such a reference.

For further information – please contact Jennifer Day at (519) 257-6733 or

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