Our principles and practices


The IWI program supports activities that strengthen the capacity of IJC boards to deliver on their mandates through building partnerships and promoting sound water stewardship. The following principles guide the IWI:

  1. Integrated Ecosystem Approach
  2. Binational Collaboration
  3. Involvement of local expertise
  4. Public engagement
  5. Balanced and inclusive board representation
  6. Open and respectful dialogue
  7. Adaptive management perspective

Integrated Ecosystem Approach to Transboundary Water Issues  

An integrated ecosystem approach considers the watershed ecosystem as a whole, taking into account local communities, flora, and fauna and attempting to balance all interests without being confined to one side of the border.

Binational Collaboration

Equal participation in numbers from Canada and the U.S. on all boards, study boards, committees and advisory groups is a guiding principle of the IJC. Equal binational participation builds relationships and a shared awareness and understanding of the issues influencing transboundary water quality and water flows. A common understanding and consistent tools and techniques are core elements of effective stewardship of these transboundary waters. Determining a common set of scientifically credible facts is essential and is achieved through binational collaboration in joint fact finding, monitoring, and reporting on the quality, conditions, threats, and opportunities for these shared waters.

Involvement of Local Expertise

Each watershed has its unique geography, ecosystems and challenges that are understood by the local community. Local people and institutions are often the best placed to anticipate, prevent or resolve many problems related to water resources and the environment and to take shared actions towards sustainability. Engagement of local expertise is fundamental to effectively addressing any water issue.

Public Engagement

The waters in these transboundary basins belong to the people, and an informed and engaged public is critical for successful water stewardship. Watershed boards promote opportunities for the public to be continuously informed on the status of issues and results to date, and to share views and guidance on a regular basis. Hosting public meetings, distributing reports and holding informative water forums and workshops are essential for facilitating the exchange of ideas and provide a platform to share the latest scientific knowledge and best practices with everyone in the basin.

Balanced and Inclusive Board Representation

Transboundary water stewardship is strengthened through diverse perspectives, expertise, and frames of reference. Watershed boards are most effective when federal, state, and provincial members are joined by members from First Nation, American Tribes and Métis communities, as well as from local governments, non-governmental organizations, industry, and the private sector. Watershed boards must be representative of the watershed community and reflect diverse expertise, gender parity and geographic representation.

Open and Respectful Dialogue

Diverse perspectives are respected and efforts are made to build trust and understanding while striving for consensus with the consideration of broad stakeholder engagement during deliberations. There will be times when consensus may not be achievable, and a majority may need to choose the desired outcome, but all voices will have had the opportunity to be heard through a collaborative process.

Adaptive Management Perspective

Transboundary water stewardship is an ongoing process with ecosystems in constant flux (e.g., changing climate and land use practices), and stakeholder needs and concerns ever evolving. Iteratively assessing the effectiveness of decisions over time with new data and science will enable actions to be identified that will lead to improved water stewardship.


Three images of the binational data harmonization workshops

To implement the IWI approach, IJC boards use an integrated ecosystem approach and seek to facilitate watershed-level solutions to transboundary environmental challenges by promoting communication, collaboration, and coordination among the various stakeholders and interests. 

Knowing that each watershed is unique, effective and lasting watershed-level solutions must consider the local context and cannot be executed from the outside looking in. IJC boards work to build a shared understanding of the watershed by communicating watershed issues at all levels, resolving watershed issues, and administering existing orders and references from the governments. Boards often form specialized committees to focus on a subset of watershed issues, and many board members bring their unique perspective as employees of various government agencies and indigenous communities with important roles in the basins. Boards also depend on public input through annual or semi-annual public meetings, as well as through other more informal channels.

The 1998 Reference from the two governments encouraged the IJC to draw on existing expertise, data, technology, and systems in setting up the IWI. Therefore, the IWI navigates through existing frameworks to promote and coordinate watershed-level approaches to transboundary issues. The IWI does receive some modest funding for projects, totaling $5 million from 2015-2020, from the two governments. This funding is attributed to projects to provide hydrologic and ecosystem analyses, data collection and harmonization, board support, and public outreach.

For the most part, IJC Boards are eligible to independently submit proposals for IWI funding. However, the Health Professionals Advisory Board and Boards created under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Great Lakes Water Quality Board and Great Lakes Science Advisory Board) must partner with another Commission board when submitting IWI project proposals. Their proposals must align with the co-sponsoring board’s priorities and workplans. Any board project proposal must also comply with IWI funding criteria. For more information on this process, please refer to the next section on Funding Criteria.

2020-2025 plan

Image of Lake Superior shoreline

In 2019, the IJC commissioners adopted organization-wide priorities for its transboundary work from 2019-2023. Of those priorities, IWI activities include:

  1. Studying how climate change may impact transboundary basins and the work of IJC boards. (Climate Change and Adaptive Management)

  2. Taking a binational approach to regulating, monitoring, and remediation of water quality issues (Transboundary Water Quality)

  3. Better engagement with Indigenous peoples and the inclusion of Traditional/Indigenous Ecological Knowledge in board work (including IWI projects). (Indigenous Governments, Organizations and Citizens).

The IWI’s strategic approach and emphasis has evolved over time. The IWI has benefited from multi-board input to improve efficiency and effectiveness. To respond to lessons learned in the implementation of the IWI, the IJC is further strengthening IWI management through the IWI plan which includes proposals for additional program enhancements and directions for 2020-2025. These items include standardizing project documentation, developing an IWI steering committee, improving communication strategies and tools, and further organization of strategic initiative planning. The IWI Plan also proposes the Commission explore the need for and potential benefits of the establishment of international watershed boards in other basins.