9:30 a.m., EDT, September 12, 2002
U.S. And Canadian Federal Governments Show Progress,
but Challenges Remain in Restoring the Great Lakes
In its Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality, the International Joint Commission (IJC) finds that while there are many ongoing programs and activities in Canada and the United States, progress to restore and maintain the chemical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem is proceeding at a slow pace.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States has as its purpose, the restoration and maintenance of the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. Every two years, the IJC assesses progress toward achieving the goals of this Agreement.
According to Dennis Schornack, chair of the IJC's U.S. Section, "The bilateral commitment to restore the greatness of the Great Lakes remains incomplete. Encouraging progress is being made, but at too slow a pace. Cleaning up contaminated sediments and stopping the invasion of alien species are two top priorities for restoring the chemical and biological integrity of this vast and vital ecosystem."
"The Agreement is now 30 years old and even though progress has been made, it has been slow. We see no evidence based on the nature and pace of current activities that restoration will happen within the next generation's life time," said Herb Gray, chair of the IJC's Canadian Section.
The Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality makes this case and offers specific recommendations in three major areas.
The State of the Great Lakes
Is water from the Great Lakes safe to swim in, are the fish safe to eat, is the water safe to drink? The citizens of the Great Lakes basin need to have answers to these questions because these are the three main ways they use the waters. Monitoring the lakes and developing reliable data is important because it tells us if the programs to maintain and restore the Great Lakes are working. Making this data accessible to the public is also important because all of these issues have implications for human use and ecosystem health.
The Challenge of Contaminated Sediment and Human Health Impacts
One of the greatest challenges of restoring the Greats Lakes is cleaning up the vast amounts of contaminated sediment lying at the bottom of many of our urban harbors, tributary rivers and nearshore areas. Without a comprehensive cleanup effort, restoration will not happen within a generation. A convincing body of scientific research shows that toxic substances accumulate in humans who eat certain Great Lakes fish, and that this exposure can cause serious injury to health.
The Challenge of Alien Invasive Species
The Great Lakes are under daily threat from invasions of non-native species that can cause egregious harm to the ecosystem and economy of the Great Lakes, even more harm than the infamous zebra mussel or sea lamprey. We need to act now because the U.S. and Canada form the gateway to this freshwater ecosystem, and once these species establish themselves, they cannot be eradicated.
Other Important Challenges
In its Eleventh Biennial Report, the IJC also offers observations on several issues of concern to the Great Lakes basin. It is the goal of the IJC to sustain dialogue with and between the governments of the United States and Canada in these very important areas and work toward acceptable solutions. These issues include: clean up in the Areas of Concern; phosphorus levels in the lakes; dredging; airborne toxic substances; contaminated groundwater; research and development; Lake Superior Binational Program; nuclear issues; and unmonitored chemicals.
The International Joint Commission is a binational Canada-United States organization established by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to assist the governments in preventing disputes related to waters along the Canada-U.S. border. Under the Agreement, the IJC assesses the adequacy and effectiveness of programs and progress to restore and maintain the health of the Great Lakes and reports its findings and makes recommendations to governments biennially.
Illustrations and graphics relating to the Eleventh Biennial Report and the IJC will be available on www.ijc.org the morning of September 12.
Live webcasts of media briefings in Toronto, ON and Washington, DC will be held when the report is released at 9:30 a.m. (EDT) on September 12, 2002. To listen to the webcasts, follow the links from the IJC's homepage at www.ijc.org.
For more information, please contact :
Windsor/Detroit: Jennifer Day 519-257-6733 or 313-226-2170
Washington, D.C.: Frank Bevacqua 202-736-9024
Ottawa: Fabien Lengellé 613-995-0088