Invasive Species Successes and Challenges Highlighted in Draft TAP Report

By Sally Cole-Misch, IJC

Over the past 175 years, more than 180 aquatic, non-native species have found a home in the Great Lakes. They arrived through human activities such as shipping, building the Welland Canal around Niagara Falls, or even intentional introduction. In most cases these species do not cause problems. But about 45 of these have become invasive and represent one of the toughest challenges facing the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Invasive species such as purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis), and the Asian longhorned beetle are disrupting the Great Lakes ecosystem in drastic ways
Invasive species such as purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis), and the Asian longhorned beetle are disrupting the Great Lakes ecosystem in drastic ways. Credit: Wisconsin Sea Grant, NOAA-GLERL, Nature Conservancy

This is the conclusion the IJC reached in its draft Triennial Assessment of Progress (TAP) under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Canada and the United States recognized how important this issue had become when they included an annex in the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement on aquatic invasive species (AIS) to create new programs to prevent and stop these introductions. The TAP report outlines the aggressive approach both countries have taken to enforce ship ballast exchanges. This approach, in concert with AIS prevention programs by a network of federal, state, provincial and local government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, has created a key Agreement success story: Coordinated enforcement and prevention programs have achieved nearly 100 percent compliance in ballast water discharges and exchanges, with no new discoveries of AIS from ballast water discharges confirmed since 2006. This is an impressive feat, considering at least 25 million tons of cargo travels annually to the Great Lakes from international ports in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

controls ballast water ocean going ships
Controls on ballast water discharges from ocean-going ships have helped to limit introduction of non-native species since 2006. Credit: Adobe Stock

At the same time, the governments’ progress report listed the status of AIS as poor, and the trend deteriorating, and the IJC agreed with this assessment in its draft report. Why? Previously established invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels (Dreissenids) and other AIS are spreading through the lakes, causing massive disruption to the ecosystem and food chains, and decreases in native species.

According to the TAP, “To address the spread of AIS, the regulation of ballast water discharges from ‘Lakers’, ships that remain within the Great Lakes, is being considered by Transport Canada as well as several states, though Lakers currently are exempt from US Coast Guard requirements. The two federal governments have agreed to seek consistency and compatibility between US and Canadian ballast water requirements in the 2017-2019 priorities for science and action, and this should provide a path towards compromise and harmonious joint implementation for both Lakers and seagoing vessels.”

Terrestrial invaders such as the common reed (Phragmites), garlic mustard and purple loosestrife as well as insects like the Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer also are spreading across the region, which reduce native plants and cause deforestation. These impacts cause increased inputs of sediments, chemicals and nutrients into the Great Lakes.

The TAP report concludes that effective control, containment and eradication measures are essential for terrestrial and aquatic invasive species. The two countries have identified this as a priority for the next triennial cycle of Agreement work. A key to accomplishing this will be eliminating discrepancies in terms of acceptable chemical, physical and biological controls among the state, provincial and federal agencies. Stable funding for research and effective action also is essential to ensure long-term, binationally coordinated prevention and control of invasive species.


What Do You Think?

In its draft TAP report, the IJC states: “There has been significant progress in preventing the introduction of AIS to the Great Lakes. The spread of previously introduced invasive species is a major concern. Further progress on AIS prevention and control could be enhanced by improving long-term program funding mechanisms, reaching agreements on permitting the use of all types of control measures across jurisdictions and requiring ballast water exchange and flushing in addition to discharge treatment.”

Do you agree with this finding of successes and gaps in the Parties’ progress toward the achievement of this objective?

How could the Parties better harmonize permitting, remove administrative barriers and adopt an integrated approach to AIS management?

Are there other ways the Parties could improve their binational approach to invasive species?

Tell us what you think by going to Participate IJC to answer these questions and provide your thoughts about AIS in the Great Lakes before April 15, 2017.

Contribute your Thoughts, Concerns and Ideas Online and at March Great Lakes Public Meetings

It’s Your Time to Speak Up for the Great Lakes

By Sally Cole-Misch, IJC

In previous editions of this newsletter, we’ve told you about reports released by Canada, the United States and the IJC on progress to restore the vitality of the Great Lakes. Both reports are required every three years by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which provides goals to guide the two countries’ work. Just as important are your views on how the Great Lakes are faring. We’re offering a variety of ways and places to contribute your thoughts over the next few months, which will be included in the IJC’s final report. Now’s your chance to influence what actions will be taken for the Great Lakes in the next three-year or triennial cycle. Read on for ways to contribute your voice to the conversation.

six cities health great lakes tap meetings
Join us in one of six cities to provide your insights on the health of the Great Lakes: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; Detroit, Michigan; the Lake Erie Center in Oregon, Ohio (top row); Sarnia, Ontario; Buffalo, New York; and St. Catharines, Ontario. Credits: City of Sault Ste. Marie, IJC, University of Toledo, City of Sarnia, Jake Haggmark, City of St. Catharines.

Read and Comment

Your first option is to review the reports – the Progress Report of the Parties and the IJC’s draft Triennial Assessment of Progress (TAP) report – and provide written comments. The TAP report includes several questions for your consideration that were included to help in writing the final report and its recommendations. We welcome perceptions of the lakes from your unique vantage point, locally and as a Great Lakes citizen. All written comments can be submitted by April 15 at Participate IJC, by email to ParticipateIJC@ottawa.ijc.org, or through the mail to IJC, 234 Laurier Ave. West, 22nd Floor, Ottawa, ON K1P 6K6.

Attend an IJC Great Lakes Public Meeting

The IJC’s TAP report is in draft form to gather public input before its findings are finalized into recommendations. We met with citizens in Toronto and Milwaukee last fall after the governments released their progress report, and their comments are included in this draft TAP report. Now we’re coming to six Great Lakes communities throughout the month of March to get your reaction to both reports and your unique perceptions of the Great Lakes. Each meeting will focus initially on the Agreement topics that are most relevant to that location, but any comments about the Great Lakes are welcome at each meeting. Local experts addressing key issues will provide brief presentations, and then the floor and conversations will be yours.

Here’s the lineup:

Thursday, March 2: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Michigan Public Meeting
Delta Hotels by Marriott, 208 St. Mary’s River Drive, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
6 p.m. public meeting
Key topics: St. Mary’s River Area of Concern, Lake Superior lakewide management, habitat

Tuesday, March 21: Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, Roundtable and Public Meeting
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Adventure Center, 1801 Atwater, Detroit, Michigan
1-4 p.m. roundtable with local experts on key issues (the public is welcome to attend and listen to the conversation), 6 p.m. public meeting
Key topics: Areas of Concern, water quality and human health, green infrastructure, environmental justice, recreational use

Wednesday, March 22: Sarnia, Ontario, and Port Huron, Michigan, Public Roundtable
Lochiel Kiwanis Community Centre, 180 North College Ave., Sarnia, Ontario
1:30-4:30 p.m. public roundtable
Key topics: St. Clair River Area of Concern, chemicals of mutual concern and human health, harmful algal blooms and Great Lakes nutrient reductions

Thursday, March 23: Toledo, Ohio, Public Meeting
University of Toledo Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bay Shore Road, Oregon, Ohio
6 p.m. public meeting
Key topics: Harmful algal blooms, Lake Erie nutrient reduction, agriculture, fisheries

Tuesday, March 28: Buffalo, New York, Roundtable and Public Meeting
WNED-WBFO Studio, 140 Lower Terrace, Buffalo, New York
1:30-4:30 p.m. roundtable with local experts on key issues (the public is welcome to attend and listen to the conversation), 6 p.m. public meeting
Key topics: Areas of Concern, chemicals of mutual concern, recreational use, and wetlands and habitat

Wednesday, March 29:  St. Catharines, Ontario, and Niagara Falls Public Roundtable
Alumni Hall, St. Catharines Rowing Club, Henley Island, end of Henley Island Drive, St. Catharines, Ontario
1:30-4:30 p.m. public roundtable
Key topics: Sustainable agriculture, harmful algal blooms, Great Lakes nutrient reduction, chemicals of mutual concern and human health, and Areas of Concern.

Register to attend one or more of these sessions today to receive updated information, and look for further details in the March issue of Great Lakes Connection as well as on the IJC’s website and its social media outlets.

Be Part of the Conversation through Social Media

 You may already follow the IJC on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If not, we invite you to join the conversation to receive meeting updates and reports as well as links to videos and comments from each session on Participate IJC. We welcome your input, retweets, shares and likes and will repost comments about progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes. All written comments should be provided on ParticipateIJC to ensure that they are part of the official record in the final TAP report.

Join the conversation and provide us with your perspectives of how the Great Lakes are faring. Now’s the time to speak out for the lakes we love.

Sign In and Sound Off: Great Lakes Questions Need Answers

megaphone participateijc
Credit: Gary Knight

By IJC staff

Water doesn’t speak, but you can.

April 15 is the deadline for public comments on our Triennial Assessment of Progress Report and the Progress Report of the Parties.

That’s a mouthful, we know. The TAP report, for short, looks at the job the Canadian and US governments have done to meet requirements of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The TAP includes a review of the Progress Report of the Parties, or PROP. As the Water Quality Agreement’s title suggests, this is a subject of upmost importance for anyone who lives in the Great Lakes basin, which supplies drinking water, recreational opportunities like swimming, fishing and boating, and countless other benefits.

How are the lakes doing? You tell us. The governments have released their status report, and we’ve assessed it in 84 exciting pages.

You don’t have to read the reports cover-to-cover. And you don’t need to travel to upcoming public meetings to add your voice. Of course, those who can attend March meetings in Ontario, Michigan, Ohio and New York and encouraged to come out. Those who can’t are encouraged to sign in and sound off on both reports. Go to ParticipateIJC.org.

We’ve summarized the TAP report’s key findings in an infographic. We’ve also come up with questions to help spur engagement. There’s an executive summary on pages 9-11.

draft tap infographic

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough engagement since the reports were released for public comment. You can help change that. Sign in, sound off, and speak out for water. Have the governments’ done something right? Tell us. Have they missed something? Tell us. If there a particular issue that needs more focus? Tell us. The people who live in the basin know it best.

The questions below may be a little bureaucratic (This is for the draft of an official TAP report that will be sent to two federal governments, after all). Feel free to interpret the questions widely; general comments also are welcome.

Here’s the schedule of the questions we’ll be posting in coming weeks at ParticipateIJC.org on the TAP report. Separately, you also can comment on the PROP report.

Invasive Species: The week of Feb. 13

  • Do you agree with this finding of successes and gaps in the Parties’ progress toward the achievement of this objective?
  • How could the Parties better harmonize permitting, remove administrative barriers and adopt an integrated approach to AIS management?
  • Are there other ways the parties could improve their binational approach to invasive species?

Human Health: The week of Feb. 20

  • Do you agree with this finding regarding lack of demonstrated progress toward achievement of the human health objectives and the need for greater binational focus?
  • What advice should the IJC give the Parties on how to increase the binational focus on human health?
  • What issues should the Parties address as a priority under an increased binational focus on human health?

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement: The week of Feb. 27

  • Has the 2012 GLWQA affected you?
  • What was the most notable achievement of governments in the first three years of Agreement implementation?
  • What advice should the IJC give the Parties about how binational cooperation on Great Lakes issues can be maintained and expanded?

Nutrients: The week of March 6

  • Do you agree with this finding regarding the progress on nutrients?
  • What are other steps could the Parties take to remedy degraded water quality in western and central Lake Erie?
  • Are there other actions the Parties should take to address nutrients in the Great Lakes?

Pollutants: The week of March 13

  • Do you agree with this finding regarding the progress on CMCs?
  • How can the Parties improve their processes to designate CMCs and develop binational strategies for their control and/or elimination or generally increase their progress toward achieving the pollutants objective?

Process, Deadlines: The week of March 20

  • How do you benefit or could you benefit from these processes and procedures?
  • What principles and approaches from the GLWQA could be better institutionalized in the next work cycle?
  • What new deadlines should be set for work in the next triennial cycle(s)?

Areas of Concern: The week of March 27

  • Do you agree with this finding on progress in restoring AOCs?
  • What should the Parties learn from progress in AOC restoration?
  • How can this progress on AOCs be maintained or improved?

Reporting: The week of April 3

  • Do you agree with this finding on Great Lakes indicators?
  • What additional improvements could be made in Great Lakes reporting?

IJC Finds Successes and Challenges in Meeting Great Lakes Water Quality Goals

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

sherri mason suny fredonia microplastics niagara
Dr. Sherri Mason of SUNY-Fredonia led a survey of microplastics in the Great Lakes aboard the research ship Niagara in 2012. The tiny pieces of plastic are a growing environmental concern on the Great Lakes. Credit: SUNY-Fredonia

Coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes basin are recovering, providing habitat and natural water filtering along the shores. Areas of Concern that have long suffered from degradation and pollution are improving. Plans are being assembled to reduce nutrient inputs to Lake Erie and get a handle on algal blooms. New aquatic species have been kept out of the lakes, and an initial list of chemicals of mutual concern has been drawn up. Canada and the United States have made significant progress to restore and protect the lakes, even though there’s still a long way to go to meet the objectives of the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

These are key findings in a new draft Triennial Assessment of Progress report from the IJC. The Agreement requires the IJC to consider how well the countries are tackling a variety of issues in the Great Lakes every three years. The TAP report, now out for public input, paints a largely positive picture. Its findings are the result of work by the IJC, its Great Lakes advisory boards and the Progress Report of the Parties report, which Canada and the US released last September.

The final TAP, to be released in late 2017, is expected to contain recommendations and suggestions for efforts by Canada and the United States to safeguard the basin. The IJC is encouraging people from both countries to add their thoughts and comments on the TAP at ParticipateIJC.org and at a series of March public meetings (see “It’s Your Turn”) to help develop the final recommendations.

The 2012 Agreement includes a series of objectives to guide the two countries, eight states and two provinces on Great Lakes issues.

Drinking water and pollutants

The TAP reports few changes in the quality of the overall Great Lakes for swimming and other recreational uses. Waters were safe for swimming in 96 percent of the season in the US and 78 percent of the season in Ontario, giving people plenty of opportunities to enjoy the lakes without worrying about E. coli bacteria or algal blooms.

Moreover, the IJC found that source water from the lakes, when properly treated, is safe to drink, though there have been a few notable incidents. A 2014 “do not drink” advisory in Toledo, Ohio and Pelee island, Ontario, was directly related to Great Lakes water pollution when an unsafe level of the toxin microcystin was found in treated water during an algal bloom on Lake Erie. Other drinking water contamination incidents like the one in Flint, Michigan, where elevated lead levels leached into distribution pipes in 2015 because the water wasn’t treated with anti-corrosion measures, also help serve as a reminder that how drinking water is safely delivered to the people in the basin can be improved.

There has been some progress in improving or maintaining drinking water quality in the basin. Of the 10 Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes that had drinking water impairment issues – either consumption restrictions or problems with taste and smell – seven areas no longer experience problems, and officials expect two of the remaining three expect to no longer have problems in the next two-to-three years.

Additionally, the United States and Canada are working on groundwater quality studies to determine if groundwater supplies, which are generally good, are improving. This research also should give researchers a better idea of what impact groundwater quality and quantity has on surface water supplies in the basin. Since some communities and individual wells alike can depend on groundwater, making sure supplies are strong, recharging and clean from chemical pollutants is vital for public health. Ontario’s Clean Water Act mandates source water protection plans, while on the US side, states voluntarily can develop plans under the US Safe Drinking Water Act to keep hazardous chemicals out of drinking water.

Chemical pollution continues to threaten human and ecosystem health, and Canada and the US are lagging when it comes to addressing that issue in the Great Lakes. The TAP reports that toxic chemical concentrations are a mixed bag – some legacy chemicals are decreasing, while other chemicals seem to be on the rise that could spell major problems down the road. The countries designated an initial list of chemicals of mutual concern and are developing strategies to address them, but the list wasn’t finalized until last May and binational strategies to control them are behind schedule; pilot strategies for two of those identified chemicals are incomplete and the development process isn’t transparent to the public.

When it comes to chemicals in wildlife, the two countries have made strides in reducing the amount of legacy contaminants – like DDT or PCBs – in fish frequently consumed by people, but advisories have still been issued for some species and areas due to the presence of those legacy contaminants. Both countries continue to monitor levels of contaminants in Great Lakes fish that are generally eaten by humans, though more data is necessary to determine whether the two countries are making additional progress. This is especially important to communities that eat more locally caught fish than others, and to anglers who also enjoy eating what they catch.

rouge river detroit tap report industrial chemical
Industrial and chemical facilities along the Great Lakes waterways – including tributaries like the Rouge River in Michigan pictured above – have historically been key sources of chemical pollution into the lakes. Credit: EPA

Environmental conditions, climate change and nutrient runoff

Additional Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement objectives call for healthy and productive wetlands and charge the United States and Canada to protect and restore wetlands and other habitats across the lakes. The TAP report says that coastal wetlands are improving across the basin, providing habitat for a variety of native species and a protective barrier to reduce the amount of pollutants and nutrient runoff getting into the lakes.

This also supports another Agreement objective, to control nutrient runoff and associated algal blooms. According to IJC Biological Scientist Dr. Li Wang, the United States has provided habitat restoration funds to local organizations through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, while Environment and Climate Change Canada has used money from the Wildlife Conservation Fund to support almost 40 restoration projects in the basin. The recently approved Plan 2014 for regulating water flows through the Moses Saunders dam will also help restore an estimated 64,000 acres of wetlands around Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River that have been degraded under the previous water outflow management plans.

Nutrient runoff (mainly from agricultural sources) is a serious problem in all the lakes except Superior, and the IJC has found it’s getting worse. These nutrients contribute to unwanted algal blooms and lead to oxygen-poor zones, toxic waters and damage to the food web. The two countries have agreed to try and reduce nutrient runoff to Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025 based on 2008 levels, and are developing action plans to reach that goal. Those plans are due by February 2018.

Those plans must be rigorous to achieve these reductions, but the plans being developed don’t do enough for wetlands restoration and construction to help reach the targets, according to the TAP. These blooms are particularly prevalent in Lake Erie, though they’ve appeared in locations throughout the Great Lakes, from Hamilton Harbour in Lake Ontario to Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. The general public is advised not to swim or fish in waterways when regularly updated bulletins indicate it’s unsafe due to these blooms.

harmful algal bloom lake erie landsat
A harmful algal bloom spreads across western and central Lake Erie in October 2011. Nutrients running into the lakes and feeding algal blooms is one issue the United States and Canada are working on addressing. Credit: NASA Landsat-5

The Agreement states that the lakes should be free of new invasive species and the spread and impact of existing ones should be limited as much as possible. While the United States and Canada have been able to stop the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes by enforcing ballast water flushing requirements – based off of proposed International Maritime Organization standards – harmful species like Phragmites, zebra and quagga mussels continue to spread and wreak havoc on the native ecosystem. There’s no comprehensive estimate on the economic impact of these species, though it costs money to control sea lamprey in tributaries and clear mussels from infrastructure. Research in both countries is continuing to find new ways to contain and possibly eradicate these invasive species in a number of ways, including pheromones, electrical and acoustic barriers and chemical controls.

The TAP report covers other environmental concerns for the Great Lakes and the people and wildlife around them under the catch-all water quality objective of freeing the lakes of substances, materials “or conditions” that negatively impact the lakes.

Plastic debris known as microplastics can be ingested by animals, causing a variety of health problems that can make their way up the food chain to humans. Both countries have passed laws that will ban products containing microbeads, but these are only a small subset of all microplastics. More attention is needed to eliminate all/other degraded plastics from entering the lakes as a result of waste disposal choices.

Finally, climate change is leading to an overall downward trend in ice cover on the Great Lakes, which impacts the ecosystem and water levels throughout the rest of the year. Canada is developing climate change models specific to the Great Lakes region and the St. Lawrence River, but the IJC believes a binational, unified approach to adapting to climate change from the federal and regional governments is the best way forward and should be explored.

The TAP is the result of three years of work, and the first such report since the 2012 Agreement was signed. The Commission hopes that it helps guide and sustain progress for the years to come as the governments work to restore the integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes.

wetlands ontario natural barriers pollutants
Wetlands such as the one in Batchawana Bay, Ontario, are important natural barriers for pollutants entering the Great Lakes, and have been improving in recent years. Credit: IJC

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.

It’s Your Turn: Tell Us What You Think About IJC’s TAP Report and Progress to Restore the Great Lakes

By Sally Cole-Misch, IJC

The Canadian and US governments presented their progress report last fall on efforts to restore the Great Lakes by meeting the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The IJC has now released its initial assessment of that progress in a draft Triennial Assessment of Progress report. The TAP report was released in draft form so we can hear from you before it becomes a final report to both countries.

shores lake superior tap
The shores of Lake Superior. Credit: Dean Pennala – Fotolia

“Now that the IJC has released its draft assessment of progress report, we’re eager to hear from Great Lakes residents,” US Commissioner Rich Moy said at the time of the report’s release.

There are several ways you can contribute to the IJC’s assessment of progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes. You can tell us what you think of the draft report’s findings and respond to its questions — and anything else that’s on your mind about the lakes — via email to ParticipateIJC@ottawa.ijc.org and online at ParticipateIJC through April 15, 2017.

You’re also invited to attend a public outreach meeting that the IJC will host in six communities in March. In addition to hearing your thoughts and comments, local experts will present the latest information on specific issues in each location – including the successes and challenges still to be faced – to ensure a broad conversation about the lakes.

“We strongly encourage everyone to provide their input or participate in an upcoming public meeting,” said IJC Canadian Chair Gordon Walker. “Public input is essential to Agreement success.”

Public meeting dates and locations include:

  • Thursday, March 2: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
  • Tuesday, March 21: Detroit, Michigan
  • Wednesday, March 22: Sarnia, Ontario
  • Thursday, March 23: Toledo, Ohio
  • Tuesday, March 28: Buffalo, New York
  • Wednesday, March 29: St. Catharines, Ontario.

Details for each meeting will be provided in early February at Participate IJC, on the IJC website, in next month’s issue of Great Lakes Connection, and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Be part of the conversation by telling us how you value the Great Lakes ecologically, culturally, economically and personally, and about the commitment you and your community share to restore and protect these precious waters.

What do you think about Canada and the United States’ progress to accomplish the Agreement’s goals and objectives, and about the IJC’s draft assessment of that progress? Your voice is essential to ensure that both countries continue to make progress. The floor is yours.

Sally Cole-Misch is the public affairs officer at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Jan. 30, 2017, to reflect a date change to the Toledo meeting.

ParticipateIJC: Why Should You Speak Out for the Great Lakes?

By Frank Bevacqua, IJC

For the next several months, the IJC will be talking with citizens about what kind of a job the governments of Canada and the United States are doing to restore and protect the Great Lakes. It’s one of the accountability mechanisms built into the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

In addition to holding meetings around the basin, the IJC has launched ParticipateIJC, a website for sharing conversations and videos from those meetings and gathering public comment on progress made by our governments. We also will host an online discussion every month until June 2017 on a topic related to the lakes.

In November, we’re inviting discussion on how to facilitate more meaningful public engagement in work under the Agreement, and the efforts needed to be more inclusive of First Nations, minority communities, the younger generation and other basin citizens. In December, we will talk about how to anticipate and adapt to climate change impacts.

You are invited to suggest ideas for future discussions. Monthly discussions on ParticipateIJC will focus on the conversations that people have told us need to take place.

frank bevacqua participate ijc engagement
Frank Bevacqua

When I talk about the IJC’s public engagement process, people ask me whether it is really worth their effort to participate. Do citizens have any real power to affect the future of the Great Lakes? In my experience, yes. I have organized and participated in a great many IJC public consultations and have seen how a chorus of strong voices, or even a single thoughtful comment, can change the outcome.

If citizens had not demanded action at certain times, we would not have limits on phosphorus in laundry detergent, funding to clean up Areas of Concern or conservation of dunes and other treasured natural areas. The commitment by governments to make Lake Superior the pilot project for zero discharge of persistent toxic substances and the innovative efforts that followed resulted from a comment by one person at an IJC public meeting.

five reasons participate ijcSo your voice can indeed make a difference. The IJC invites you to read comments and post about the recent progress report by the governments of Canada and the United States at ParticipateIJC.org.  The governments explain their work under the Agreement in presentations that may be viewed on the site.

Public support was critical for addressing the challenges faced by the Great Lakes in the past and will be critical for addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow. The IJC is striving to facilitate dialogue among citizens in both of our countries and we look forward to hearing from you!

Frank Bevacqua is the public information officer in the IJC’s US Section Office in Washington, D.C., office.

 

Upcoming Progress Report on Great Lakes Expected to Generate Widespread Interest

By Frank Bevacqua, IJC

The first progress report under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement will cover familiar topics from earlier versions of the Agreement such as nutrients, chemicals and Areas of Concern and also bring an increased focus to newer topics including climate change impacts, groundwater, habitat and invasive species.

The Progress Report of the Parties (PROP) will be released in the near future by the governments of Canada and the United States, the parties that signed the Agreement. It will document actions to restore and protect the Great Lakes as well as work by the two countries to set binational targets and coordinate domestic actions.

prop-report-parties-water-blue-gilly-walker
The report is known as the PROP, or Progress Report of the Parties. Credit: Gilly Walker

Excessive nutrients in the water contribute to toxic and nuisance algal blooms, and experts identified the nutrient phosphorus as a major factor. In February 2016, the governments adopted several new targets to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie that were largely consistent with 2014 recommendations from the IJC.

These reductions are necessary to minimize oxygen-depleted “dead zones,” maintain algal species consistent with a healthy ecosystem and prevent cyanobacteria levels that threaten human or ecosystem health. The governments are working to develop domestic action plans by 2018 to achieve the reductions.

fishing-lake-erie-ohio-sea-grant
Fishing in Lake Erie. Credit: Ohio Sea Grant

Pollution and other human activities can prevent the normal use of Great Lakes waters and result in beneficial use impairments such as restrictions on eating the fish, beach closings and habitat loss. Work to restore beneficial water uses in Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) has been sufficient to formally remove seven areas from the list of 43 AOCs designated nearly 30 years ago. Efforts are underway to restore water uses in remaining AOCs and the PROP is expected to report on the status of efforts in each of the locations.

Chemicals of mutual concern such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and flame retardants known as PBDEs can damage aquatic ecosystems and threaten human health when people eat contaminated fish. Binational actions to date include designating the first eight chemicals of mutual concern. Strategies to reduce the release of these chemicals will be developed to fulfill Agreement objectives and protect human health and the environment.

The Agreement calls on the two countries to develop lake ecosystem objectives and Lakewide Action and Management Plans (LAMPs) for each of the Great Lakes and their connecting channels. In response to these commitments, a draft Lake Superior LAMP was released in November 2015 and a draft Nearshore Framework was released in May 2016.

lake-superior-wetland-prop
A Lake Superior wetland. Credit: USFWS Midwest

The 2012 Agreement recognizes that groundwater quality can impact the Great Lakes. In May 2016, the governments released a report on Great Lakes groundwater science that examines connections to surface water quality, delivery of contaminants and nutrients, role in aquatic habitats and impacts to groundwater from urban development and climate change.

The PROP is expected to report on actions to address issues such as climate change impacts, habitat conservation and discharges from ships. Both countries have implemented regulations to reduce the risk of introducing aquatic invasive species from discharges of ships’ ballast water, including stringent binational enforcement of ballast water exchange requirements. No new aquatic invasive species from ballast water have been reported in the Great Lakes since 2006.

The IJC wants to hear your views on progress by the governments to fulfill their commitments under the Agreement and whether the PROP is a useful report. There are many opportunities to join the discussion and provide comments during the IJC’s upcoming public engagement period.

Frank Bevacqua is the public information officer at the IJC’s US Section Office in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

The Agreement and You: Great Lakes Progress Reports Provide Key Opportunity to Participate in Lakes’ Future Health

Why Care about a PROP, SOGLR or TAP?

Over the next year, you’re likely to read the acronyms PROP, SOGLR and TAP several times in Great Lakes Connection.

They refer to three reports:

  • PROP, or Progress Report of the Parties, in which Canada and the United States will summarize the status of their efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes based on the goals and objectives agreed to in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
  • SOGLR, or State of the Great Lakes Report, also written by the two countries
  • IJC’s Triennial Assessment of Progress or TAP report.

The IJC’s TAP report will analyze progress to meet the Agreement’s goals, synthesize comments by you and others on progress to restore and protect the lakes, and recommend additional or new actions to both countries.

So when you see the alphabet soup of acronyms, we encourage you to read further. And we’ll try not to use them too often. These reports will provide the most concise summary of how the Great Lakes are faring on a wide variety of issues, from nutrients causing excessive algae to aquatic invasive species and impacts from climate change.

When the reports are released – the PROP and SOGLR in September and our TAP report in January 2017 – you can participate in a series of online and in-person meetings to learn more and provide your views on the condition of the Great Lakes and the efforts in both countries to restore them. The accompanying and future articles in Great Lakes Connection will provide additional details about the reports and the meetings.

We look forward to your participation in this process.

Dereth Glance                                                            Richard Morgan

US Commissioner                                                       Canadian Commissioner

The Agreement and You: Great Lakes Progress Reports Provide Key Opportunity to Participate in Lakes’ Future Health

By IJC staff

great lakes water quality agreement 1972
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed in 1972, was most recently revised in 2012. Credit: Monique Myre


The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is often cited as one of the most forward-thinking international agreements to protect, restore and enhance a specific aquatic ecosystem. Federal, state and provincial laws and programs – including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the United States and the Canada-Ontario Agreement – were created to provide funding and fulfill the Agreement’s goals. Collectively, they reflect the immense value of the lakes to both countries and their citizens.

The two countries recognized that the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement would need to change as existing issues are more clearly understood and to adapt to new challenges facing the lakes. Thus, each of the Agreement’s four iterations since its creation in 1972 has included a review process between and among governments, the IJC and the public.

The federal governments or “Parties” report every three years on progress. The IJC then gathers views on the condition of the Great Lakes and the efforts in both countries to restore them through a variety of in-person, written and online avenues. We write our own independent assessment of progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes, now called a Triennial Assessment of Progress or TAP report, which includes a synthesis of citizen comments and recommendations for future actions and priorities.

Another review period begins in September 2016, when the governments will release two reports on progress to restore the lakes (officially called the Progress Report of the Parties, or PROP; and the State of the Great Lakes Report, or SOGLR). While SOGLR will provide detailed scientific information on the state of each lake, the PROP will address how they are meeting the Agreement’s goals, and what work still needs to be completed. Given that virtually every issue faced by one or more of the lakes has been addressed in one way or another in the Agreement and its resulting programs and projects, consider these upcoming reports to be essential reading.

In the most recent revision in 2012, the United States and Canada expanded the Agreement to commit to specific programs and deadlines to address several existing and emerging challenges to the lakes. These include:

  • Identifying and reducing chemicals of mutual concern from entering the lakes
  • Refocused efforts on reducing phosphorus and other nutrients that are threatening Lake Erie and other areas in the Great Lakes
  • Controlling and reducing discharges from vessels
  • Reducing and eliminating aquatic nuisance species and preventing new ones from entering the lakes
  • Restoring and enhancing native species and their habitats
  • Identifying impacts to the lakes from groundwater and climate change.

The two governments also committed to holding a Great Lakes Public Forum every three years to present the findings in their progress report, or PROP. After the PROP is released in September, the forum will be held at the Allstream Centre in Toronto, Ontario, on Oct. 3-6 to summarize and discuss both countries’ findings. The event is free and open to everyone to attend. You can find out more at Binational.net.

Given that not everyone can attend these day-long sessions, the IJC is developing several ways for the public to participate in the forum: through live and recorded web streaming; on an e-democracy internet platform; via opportunities for written comments to the IJC before, during and after the forum; and at a public meeting on the evening of Oct. 5 at City Hall in downtown Toronto.

toronto city hall
Toronto’s City Hall. Credit: S. Cole-Misch

The IJC will hold another evening public meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Oct. 18 to provide the opportunity for citizens on the other side of the Great Lakes basin to learn more about the countries’ progress reports and provide comments. Details about each of these options will be provided in upcoming issues of Great Lakes Connection.

That’s what’s up this fall. Your time to read and participate in this review process is essential, because it ensures that the Agreement stands as one of the world’s best models of international, democratic cooperation to protect the health and future of the Great Lakes. Their vitality depends on our collective understanding, commitment and actions to restore and protect them. That’s how democracy works.