Study Findings and Recommendations


The Study undertook a comprehensive analysis of the current and emerging conditions and perspectives of six key interests likely to be affected by possible future changes in water levels in the upper Great Lakes basin.  Based on this analysis, the Study Board concluded that:

  • Under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, domestic and sanitary water uses, navigation, and power and irrigation are given order of precedence.  These three uses must be taken into account in the development of regulation plans.  Today, it is recognized that ecosystems, coastal zone uses, and recreational boating tourism have rights under the Treaty, consistent with the IJC’s balancing principle, which provides for benefits or relief to interests affected by water levels and flows without causing undue detriment to other interests.
  • All six interests are experiencing major change as a result of broad, underlying economic, social and environmental forces.  The decline in heavy industry and manufacturing in the region has put into motion changes such as declines in income, population, and municipal taxes, which in turn affect demand for shipping, energy and recreation.  At the same time, the region’s economic transition could see the rise of new, more water-intensive industries, such as irrigated agriculture, biofuels, oilsands refining and electricity production.
  • All the interests have a long-established presence in the upper Great Lakes basin, and all represent significant economic value to the region.  There are expectations across all the interests that water levels will be maintained in the future to support their needs.
  • All six interests can be adversely affected by both high and low water conditions.  Most of the interests have demonstrated their capacity to adapt to changes in water level conditions that have been within historical upper or lower ranges (Figure 4).  However, future water levels that are outside these historical ranges would require some interests to carry out more comprehensive and costly adaptive responses than any undertaken to date.
  • For thousands of years, and continuing into the present, many Native American communities and First Nations have relied on the natural resources of the Great Lakes to meet their economic, cultural and spiritual needs.  A fundamental ongoing concern of indigenous peoples is the extent to which they are involved in the decisions of governments in the United States and Canada with regard to the Great Lakes. 


A New Lake Superior Regulation Plan

  • The IJC should approve Lake Superior Regulation Plan 2012 as the new plan for regulating Lake Superior outflow and advise governments that the 1977A plan will be replaced with the new plan.
  • The IJC should prepare and issue new integrated Orders of Approval that consolidate all of the applicable conditions and requirements of the original and Supplementary Orders, as well as the additional considerations required to implement the recommended new plan, Lake Superior Regulation Plan 2012.

Hydroclimatic Science

  • The IJC should seek to improve scientific understanding of hydroclimatic processes occurring in the Great Lakes basin and the impacts on future water levels as part of a continuous, coordinated bi-national effort.  In particular, the IJC should endorse the following initiatives as priorities and strongly recommend ongoing government support:
  • strengthening climate change modelling capacity in the Great Lakes basin in light of the promising preliminary results identified in the Study; and,
  • enhancing hydroclimatic data collection in the upper Great Lakes basin.

Adaptive Management

  • An adaptive management strategy should be applied to address future extreme water levels in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin through six core initiatives:
    • strengthening hydroclimatic monitoring and modelling;
    • ongoing risk assessment;
    • ensuring more comprehensive information management and outreach;
    • improving tools and processes for decision makers to evaluate their actions;
    • establishing a collaborative regional adaptive management study for addressing water level extremes; and,
    • promoting the integration of water quality and quantity modelling and activities.
  • The IJC should seek to establish a Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Levels Advisory Board to champion and help administer the proposed adaptive management strategy for the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system.
  • The IJC should work with governments to pursue funding options and coordinate adaptive management efforts with the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Working Group, the renewal of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the implementation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resource Agreement.

Multi-lake Regulation

  • Further study of multi-lake regulation in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system should not be pursued at this time.