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    International Joint Commission
    United States and Canada


The Honorable Dennis Schornack

Chairman, U.S. Section, International Joint Commission

Remarks before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

 

            Thank you, Chairman Voinovich, for the opportunity to address the complex and vitally important issue of managing the restoration of the Great Lakes.  In fact, restoring the greatness of the lakes is the top priority of the International Joint Commission under the terms of the reference articulated in Article VII of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.


            I have the honor of being accompanied by the Rt. Honourable Herb Gray, my co-chair at the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the former deputy prime minister of Canada.  I should also note that your offices have all been provided with copies of our annual report, 11th Biennial report, our special report on Areas of Concern (AOCs) and the alerting letter we sent to Secretary Powell and Minister Graham concerning alien invasive species.  My comments today with respect to these documents reflect the sentiments of the entire commission.


            Let me also say a word about the role of the IJC.  Created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, we prevent and resolve disputes between the United States and Canada regarding our shared waters.  We also operate 19 control boards that manage dams and other control structures on the shared waterways that traverse over 5,000 miles of the U.S.-Canadian boundary.

 

            The IJC is made up of three commissioners appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate and three appointed by the Governor-in-Council of Canada (the cabinet).  Commissioners serve as independent watchdogs without instruction from our respective governments.  Upon taking office, we take an oath to be independent of the very governments that appointed us and to serve the common good of the citizens of both countries.  We operate as a unitary body that utilizes joint fact-finding to make decisions by consensus based on the best available science.

           

The treaty that created the IJC gave each nation equal rights to use our shared waters, including the Great Lakes, but with those rights came important responsibilities.  For example, Article IV stipulates “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”  In addition, Article VIII sets the order of precedence for the use of boundary waters:


1.      domestic and sanitary purposes;

2.      navigation, including the service of canals for the purposes of navigation;

3.      power and for irrigation purposes.


The IJC’s successful work under the Boundary Waters Treaty led the U.S. and Canada to once again turn to the IJC to play a key role in monitoring and assisting in the implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  Specifically, every two years we evaluate the progress of the two countries in restoring beneficial uses, hold public hearings and issue a comprehensive report.


The operating principles of the IJC – our independence, the equality of commissioners and countries, our binational science-based approach and our objectivity – make the IJC the ideal watchdog over how well the countries keep their promises under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  The IJC plays a key role in assessing progress and assisting in the implementation of the agreement. 


For example, the IJC’s 11th Biennial Report and the recent Special Report on the Status of Restoration Activities in Areas of Concern (AOC) fulfilled our obligation under Section 7 (b) of Annex 2 of the agreement.  The AOC report was the first comprehensive look at activities in AOCs since 1994.  Our key findings were that a lack of monitoring data, lack of targets and even a lack of something so simple as maps of each AOC made an assessment of progress virtually impossible.  Moreover, we found that the countdown to clean – two down, 41 to go – is proceeding too slowly.


            The IJC also agreed with previous reports of the GAO and its Canadian counterpart (Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Auditor General) regarding the lack of coordination and the need to set clear lines of authority and accountability in order to properly manage the programs and assess progress towards restoring beneficial water uses in AOCs. 

 

Clearly, when three independent agencies from two separate countries reach one conclusion, the result is a very powerful "triangulation" of opinion that is legitimate and valid.  These findings cannot be ignored.

 

Incredibly, the same three independent organizations also reached the same conclusions regarding both U.S. and Canadian management of alien invasive species in the Great Lakes – the number one threat to biodiversity in the ecosystem.  Again, reports prepared by the IJC, GAO, AGO and others clearly document the lack of a coordinated, focused strategy to combat these invaders who threaten the food web upon which all aquatic life in the Great Lakes depends.  Invasive species put our ecology and our economy at serious risk, and no one is in charge of solving the problem.

 

Chairman Voinovich, as you know, it was the “death” of Lake Erie back in the late 1960’s that led to passage of the Clean Water Act and the signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  Improvements in the treatment of wastewater reduced phosphorus loading, and gave the lake new life.  But now, an insidious alien invader, the zebra mussel and nonpoint stressors are contributing to a growing dead zone in Lake Erie.  At the same time, the Asian carp is creeping up the Mississippi toward Lake Michigan, posing the biggest threat to Great Lakes fisheries since the sea lamprey.  Responding to these challenges demands a unified, binational strategy, an effective and accountable organizational structure to implement that strategy and a budget adequate to the task.

 

When considering the issue of a coordinated strategy for Great Lakes restoration, the complexity of program management immediately becomes apparent.  Just on the U.S. side alone, there are eight states, 13 federal agencies, nearly 200 programs and hundreds of municipal governments and nongovernmental groups involved.

           

While the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act envisioned the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) to be the key agency responsible for managing and coordinating restoration programs, the reality is they don’t have the power, the budget or the reach to really direct programs over multiple federal agencies and multiple levels of government.  So I differ with the GAO report when it asserts that GLNPO has failed by not effectively coordinating the work of the other 12 federal agencies that are involved in restoration activities.

 

I would assert that GLNPO does a good job of coordinating work within EPA, across the three EPA regions that cover the Great Lakes, and with the states and tribes.  However, their authority to coordinate and direct the actions of other federal agencies is lacking and there is no overarching strategy that defines the various agency roles and responsibilities.   So, to fault GLNPO for not coordinating activities in the Commerce Department, or Interior, or Agriculture is unrealistic and unfair.

           

Looking at just the thirteen federal agencies, imagine a small, leaky boat with thirteen fishermen, no captain, no map and an empty gas tank.  Chances are this boat would get lost, fishing lines would get crossed, no one would want to row, and the boat might even sink while they debate who is in charge of bailing.  We need a sturdy ship, a captain, a full tank of gas and a map to guide our journey.

 

            Speaking of a full tank of gas, passage of the Great Lakes Legacy Act was the first major step in government action to clean up toxins that lurk in the muck on the bottom of our lakes.  These toxins pose the single greatest threat to human health because they work their way up the food chain, accumulating all the way, ending up in the fish we all love to eat.  Authorization is a good start, but full funding is even better.

 

To make full funding effective, we need to know where to start, where we are going and when we are done.  That is, when is restoration complete?  In this regard, EPA and Environment Canada should be commended for coordinating the SOLEC process that establishes some yardsticks by which the health of the Great Lakes can be measured.  SOLEC started out with more than 850 indicators, cut them to 80, and we now have partial data to support 33 of the 80. 

 

In our 11th Biennial Report, the IJC recommended doing the "top 3" first – fishability, swimmability and drinkability – and to do them right.  These three are the top concerns of the public – fish that safe to eat, water that is safe to drink and beaches that are safe to swim on without fear of getting sick.  However, despite the importance of getting this done right, SOLEC remains a voluntary process, is without a dedicated source of funding, and lacks a real quantitative basis for reaching conclusions about the health of the lakes.

 

With all the concerns that have been identified today, what should we do?  I believe the answer lies in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  It is the fabric that binds together our two great nations and the single ecosystem we share.

 

The agreement has a great purpose – creating a three-legged stool that supports an ecosystem approach to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes.  The agreement is a visionary and inspirational blueprint for international cooperation to restore the lakes.  But, to achieve the goals of the agreement, our two sovereign nations have taken two separate paths, with dozens of agencies and hundreds of programs.  What we need now is to breathe new life into the agreement, to bring it into the 21st century, and to refocus national and international action on restoring the greatness to the Great Lakes.

 

While the agreement calls for a government review every six years, it was last updated in 1987 – 16 years ago.  Perhaps the time has come to re-examine the agreement, bring it in line with state-of-the-art science, and address contemporary ecological challenges.  For example, the specific objectives for chemical integrity are out of date.  The agreement is weak with respect biological challenges, especially with regard to invasive species.  And there are virtually no provisions with respect to physical integrity, including critical issues like land use, dams, hydrological flows and climate change.  About the only thing that has not changed is the Agreement itself.

 

              Questions a review must answer include:  Is there a proper balance across the goals of physical, chemical and biological integrity?  Are agencies organized and managed to achieve these goals?  Are there new technologies and new ways of thinking that could speed the pace of restoration?  Who should monitor compliance and how?  

 

            For example, Article VI, section 1 (m) and Annex 11 of the agreement commit the U.S. and Canada to a monitoring and coordinated surveillance program to assess compliance, measure progress toward the specific objectives and identify emerging concerns.  Prior to the 1987 amendments to the agreement, the IJC and our Great Lakes Water Quality Board were involved in managing and developing this program. 

 

However, as the GAO report notes, in 1987, this responsibility was shifted away from the IJC to the EPA and Environment Canada. It has subsequently languished for lack of commitment and resources.

 

            As a result, the IJC – the independent watchdog – is dependent upon the very government programs that we evaluate for the data upon which to evaluate them.  So, I commend you, Chairman Voinovich, and the cosponsors of the Great Lakes Water Quality Indicators and Monitoring Act, for recognizing this unfulfilled promise in the agreement.  I caution you, however, to preserve the independence of the IJC and to make sure that implementation of this act will provide us the data and the tools necessary to do our job and do it right.

 

In this regard, we would also especially commend the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor for their innovative work to develop the plans for a state-of-the-art monitoring and forecasting system. 

 

I also believe that updating the agreement could form the basis for a major, binational Great Lakes initiative.  Binational and bipartisan momentum for such an initiative is growing, and many organizations already have plans that reflect the consensus that something significant must be done. We don’t need to create new and competing agencies, but rather give the Great Lakes National Program Office the power, authority and budget they need to coordinate – and indeed, direct – the work across federal agencies and between Canada and the United States.

 

Permit me to be so bold as to suggest that this time the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement could be submitted for Senate ratification to strengthen it and give it treaty status, making sure that promises made in writing become promises kept in action. 

 

We cannot restore the greatness without the vision, the plan, the power and the budget.  The Great Lakes deserve our greatest efforts to make it happen, and the IJC stands ready to assist the U.S. and Canada in achieving this lofty goal. 

 

Thank you.