Canadian and U.S. Flags

Role of the IJC

Canada and the United States created the International Joint Commission because they recognized that each country is affected by the other's actions in lake and river systems along the border. The two countries cooperate to manage these waters and to protect them for the benefit of today's citizens and future generations.

The IJC is guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty, signed by Canada and the United States in 1909. The treaty provides general principles, rather than detailed prescriptions, for preventing and resolving disputes over waters shared between the two countries and for settling other transboundary issues. The specific application of these principles is decided on a case-by-case basis.

The IJC has two main responsibilities: approving projects that affect water levels and flows across the boundary and investigating transboundary issues and recommending solutions.The IJC's recommendations and decisions take into account the needs of a wide range of water uses, including drinking water, commercial shipping, hydroelectric power generation, agriculture, ecosystem health, industry, fishing, recreational boating and shoreline property.

AUTHORITIES

Orders of approval

The IJC has the authority to issue orders of approval. These orders place conditions on the application and operation of projects, such as dams, diversions or bridges that would affect the natural level of boundary waters. The application process for an order of approval is outlined in the IJC guide to applications.  

References

The IJC studies and recommends solutions to transboundary issues when asked to do so by the national governments. When the IJC receives a government request, called a reference, it appoints a board with equal numbers of experts from each country. Board members are chosen for their professional abilities, not as representatives of a particular organization or region.

ACTIVITIES 

Regulating shared water uses

The IJC makes decisions on applications for projects, such as dams and diversions, that affect the natural level and flow of water across the boundary. Changing water levels can affect drinking water intakes, commercial shipping, hydroelectric power generation, agriculture, shoreline property, recreation, fisheries, wildlife, wetlands and other interests.

If the IJC approves a project, it may impose conditions on project design or operation to protect interests on either side of the boundary. The IJC may also appoint a board to monitor compliance of operational requirements, such as flows through a dam. Projects approved by the IJC include hydroelectric power projects in the Great Lakes and on the St. Lawrence River, the St. Croix River and the Columbia River. The IJC is also responsible for maintaining emergency water levels in the Lake of the Woods basin and for apportioning water among various uses in the Souris River, St. Mary River and Milk River basins.

Improving Water Quality

In the Boundary Waters Treaty, Canada and the United States agreed that neither country will pollute boundary waters, or waters that flow across the boundary, to an extent that would cause injury to health or property in the other country. When asked by governments, the IJC investigates, monitors and recommends actions regarding the quality of water in lakes and rivers along the Canada-United States border. The IJC has water quality responsibilities for the St. Croix River, the Rainy River and the Red River. However, much of the Commission's work focuses on helping governments clean up the Great Lakes and prevent further pollution.

Improving Air Quality

As well as damaging rivers and lakes, air pollution affects human health, especially for people with respiratory illnesses such as chronic bronchitis and asthma. Over the years, the United States and Canadian governments have asked the IJC to bring to their attention, or to investigate, air pollution problems in boundary regions. To support these activities, the IJC created the International Air Quality Advisory Board. As well, under the 1991 Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement, the IJC is required to collect and synthesize public comments on the air quality progress report published by the governments every two years.

Investigating issues and recommending solutions

The IJC studies and recommends solutions to transboundary issues when asked to do so by the national governments. When the IJC receives a government request, called a reference, it appoints a board with equal numbers of experts from each country. Board members are chosen for their professional abilities, not as representatives of a particular organization or region.

References to the IJC have focused mostly on water and air quality and on the development and use of shared water resources. For example, one reference led to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (1972)in which the two countries agreed to control pollution and to clean up wastewater from industries and communities. In 1978, a new agreement added a commitment to rid the Great Lakes of persistent toxic substances, which remain in the environment for a long time and can poison food sources for animals and people.  

Although IJC reference recommendations are not binding, they are usually accepted by the Canadian and United States governments.