IJC Report: Sixteen key physical, chemical, biological indicators recommended for assessing Great Lakes health


Great Lakes Ecosystem Indicators Report(Windsor, ON) – Sixteen indicators of Great Lakes health, composed of 41 separate measures, are recommended as tools to assess progress toward cleaning up and protecting the lakes under a report released today by the International Joint Commission (IJC).

The Great Lakes Ecosystem Indicator Project Report is the culmination of work by some of the top Great Lakes scientists and policy makers.  It recommends that the Canadian and United States governments consider using the identified indicators to monitor progress toward achieving ecosystem objectives under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the two nations.

"This is a vital tool to help us answer the question, "Are the Great Lakes getting healthier?" said Gordon Walker, Acting Chair of the IJC’s Canadian Section. "There are literally hundreds of important measures of water quality that could be considered when answering that question. This report selects the indicators and measures that are the few that tell us the most."

The indicators in the report were selected and developed by members of previous IJC Great Lakes Water Quality and Science boards as well as outside experts with input from the public and policy makers.

The report builds upon the excellent work of the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC), an initiative of Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess Great Lakes health.

"Using a core set of indicators focused on Water Quality Agreement objectives puts us in a position to communicate Great Lakes issues more effectively with the public, policy makers and managers," said Lana Pollack, Chair of the IJC’s U.S. Section.

"With almost 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water residing in the Great Lakes, we have a tremendous stewardship role. These indicators will help us meet that challenge."

Refined and focused indicators will help the IJC and others assess progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which commits the two nations to work toward restoring and maintaining the integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes.  The indicators are now recommended to the Canadian and U.S. governments for incorporation into monitoring and reporting systems.  Under the Agreement, the IJC reviews the status of Great Lakes health every three years. The IJC looks forward to hearing back from the governments about the possibility of using this suite of indicators for its assessment report in 2017. 

The IJC is also identifying human health indicators that focus on drinking water, beach safety, and fish consumption risks; and program effectiveness indicators that assess progress made by management actions such as acres of habitat protected and restoration of full uses for formerly contaminated waters.

The report sets out the Commission’s next steps for the Assessment of Progress Priority.  In particular, the Commission will consider how to use the ecosystem indicators for reporting on progress, raising awareness and encouraging action – tasks key to the Commission’s responsibilities under the Agreement.  The Commission welcomes any comments that will help to inform these next steps by July 3, 2014 via the Assessment of Indicators webs site, www.ijc.org/en_/AOP/Comments.  A final report for the priority, considering any comments, will be issued in 2015.