Great Lakes Day in Washington, D.C., Highlights the Power of Partnerships

Picture of Allison Voglesong Zejnati
Allison Voglesong Zejnati
great lakes day washington dc 2024 fr

Canadians and Americans alike came together in Washington, D.C., in early March with the shared goal of highlighting the importance of the Great Lakes to US lawmakers. 

IJC Commissioners and staff spent the week of March 4-8 at meetings and events informing legislators and decision makers about the Commission’s Great Lakes binational water quality responsibilities, and highlighting the value of basinwide collaboration and the power of partnerships.

Protecting the health and water quality of the Great Lakes is a unifying and bipartisan topic, as evidenced by the IJC Great Lakes Water Quality Board’s previous polling efforts (the most recent ended March 15). During the week, Commissioners met with Great Lakes-region lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and leaders from the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Geological Survey. 

The Commission’s meetings educated participants about ongoing projects such as the Science Advisory Board’s phase 2 of the Great Lakes Early Warning System and the Water Quality Board’s Great Lakes Horizons project. The IJC also spotlighted its 2023 recommendation to governments in its Triennial Assessment of Progress report, encouraging participation in the Commission’s collaborative efforts toward the development of a basinwide Great Lakes science plan.

commissioners staff usgs

IJC Commissioners and staff met with US Geological Survey leadership, discussing how IJC efforts toward developing a Great Lakes science plan complement the agency’s assessment of Great Lakes data and science gaps. Credit: IJC

Concurrent with Great Lakes Day, the Great Lakes Commission also hosted its semiannual meeting in Washington. The Great Lakes Commission represents the interests of the Great Lakes provinces and states on priority issues. During its meeting, the Great Lakes Commission adopted a resolution supporting the recommendations in the IJC’s Third Triennial Assessment of Progress report, encouraging the Canadian and US governments to act on the IJC’s recommendations.

The report, released in November 2023, made three recommendations to the Canadian and US governments:

  • Ensure that First Nations, Métis and Tribal governments are full, active partners in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement review process to better empower Indigenous engagement and leadership on Great Lakes water quality issues
  • Increase climate resiliency throughout the region by developing basinwide goals, adopting accountable and transparent performance metrics and working to achieve them with local, regional and provincial governments, regional watershed authorities and other stakeholders through Annex 2 (Lakewide Management) of the Agreement 
  • Proactively support and actively participate in the continued development of a 10-year Great Lakes Science Plan that works toward managing, funding, governing and implementing a coordinated and comprehensive binational science initiative.

The Great Lakes Commission’s resolution also stated that the governments should work with the Great Lakes Commission on “defining and coordinating climate resiliency activities and establishing resilience indicators and metrics.”

Similarly, as part of shared priorities for 2024, the Great Lakes Commission and partner organizations encouraged the federal governments to fund “crosscutting planning efforts to coordinate and develop regional science and data collection in the Great Lakes, including the International Joint Commission decadal science plan.”

At the close of the Great Lakes Commission’s semiannual meeting, leaders from the Great Lakes Regional Office of the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding between their offices and outlined a clear path for advancing the three commissions’ cooperative work toward shared objectives for the Great Lakes.

Among the common goals and objectives for the three commissions to partner on include developing a Great Lakes science plan, coordinating science vessel activities and promoting annual Great Lakes Day events.

“I am confident this MOU will be a model for Great Lakes partnerships that other leaders and other partners will benefit from,” said IJC US co-chair and Commissioner Gerald Acker, who spoke at the signing ceremony. “I know that it will help guide our future collaborative work on what we are doing today and the unknowns that await us in the future.”

memo understanding great lakes day commissions 2024 signing

Staff leadership from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, IJC and Great Lakes Commission sign the memorandum of understanding as Commissioners from each organization look on. Credit: IJC

“This MOU strengthens existing partnerships to create an even greater position of strength for all three commissions,” said Heather Stirratt, director of the Great Lakes Regional Office of the IJC, who signed the agreement. “Having the additional insights and perspectives from experts at the three commissions will set us all on a clearer path for advancing the goals and objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and other work to the benefit of all in the region.”

More pictures from the IJC’s activities for Great Lakes Day in Washington, D.C. are on our Flickr account.

Following the IJC’s collaboration with the Great Lakes Commission’s leadership on Great Lakes Day in Washington, D.C., so too will the IJC partner with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission which leads in organizing Canadian Great Lakes Day, slated to occur this year in early May.


Picture of Allison Voglesong Zejnati
Allison Voglesong Zejnati

Allison Voglesong Zejnati is public affairs specialist at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.