October 24, 2006
IJC recommends a new Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement for the 21st Century
In a special report, released today, the International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States recommends that the two federal governments replace the current Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with a shorter and more action-oriented document. The Commission urges that the new agreement be signed by the President and Prime Minister, and endorsed by the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament. It also urges that it include a commitment to the early development of a Binational Action Plan with achievable goals and timelines, measures for evaluating performance, and provisions for monitoring and reporting for greater accountability when it comes to the cleanup of the waters of the Great Lakes
Earlier this year, the national governments launched a comprehensive review of the operation and effectiveness of the Agreement, which has guided the cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes by providing the vital framework for binational cooperation, consultation and action since 1972. The Agreement has not been revised nor updated since 1987.
The Commission’s Special Report acknowledges the successes of the current Agreement but points out more has to be done. It strongly promotes a new way of working with a focus on government accountability. In particular, the Commission recommends creation of a new high-level Agreement steering committee, composed of the political-level heads of federal departments and agencies, to oversee implementation of the Agreement.
Canadian Section Chair Herb Gray said, “While the current Agreement guided restoration efforts, new approaches are needed. We strongly believe the Agreement must be replaced by a new accord that strengthens accountability and responds to new challenges to the quality of the waters of the Great Lakes.”
“One key to speeding the pace of restoration and improving government accountability is making sure all the right players are at the table,” said U.S. Section Chair Dennis Schornack. “In particular, mayors make daily decisions that affect water use and water quality in the Great Lakes, and a new Agreement must give mayors and other key stakeholders a new voice and a new role.”
The Commission recommends that new Agreement and the Binational Action Plan incorporate the concepts of ecosystem protection and watershed planning, include human health as a clear objective, and use the ecosystem approach. As well, the Commission believes that there should be an increased focus on biological integrity with a specific reference to the issue of alien invasive species.
In addition, the Commission says that the public should play a greater role in assessing progress under a new Agreement and that mayors, Tribes and First Nations be invited to join with federal, state and provincial governments in developing the Binational Action Plan.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States expresses the commitment of each country to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. First signed in 1972 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and President Richard Nixon, it was last revised in 1987.
In preparing the special report, the Commission considered the research, analysis and advice provided by its advisory boards, as well as the information and views received during its consultation process with the public in the fall of 2005. These public views are reflected in a synthesis document published by the Commission earlier this year.
The formal letter transmitting the report to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Secretary of State, is attached.
Copies of the Advice to Governments and the synthesis of public comment are available at: www.ijc.org.