The work of the IJC is informed, supported and guided by the more than 20 boards that work in specific watersheds and along the Canadian-U.S. boundary. Twice a year, many of the boards appear before the IJC to report on progress, share current and forecasted basin conditions, and alert the Commission to emerging or ongoing issues of concern. During the IJC’s Spring Semi-Annual Meeting from April 15-18 in Washington, D.C., the boards reported on new lows, average and highs.
Sustained low water in the upper Great Lakes is likely to continue, according to the International Lake Superior Board of Control, while communities in the Red and Souris River watersheds are bracing for significant flooding.
Minot, N.D., was flooded by the Souris River in June 2011. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Clay Church.
New low water records were set in January 2013 for the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron, now in their 14th consecutive year of low water levels. This period is the longest duration of low water on record and has resulted in lowering the long-term average level for the lakes.
Swinging like a pendulum, the Red and Souris River basins have fluctuated from deluge in 2011 to drought in 2012. For 2013, record snowpack levels, an extended winter and the unknown impact of spring and summer rainfall heighten the impending flood risk. Board member Todd Sando reported that the elevation of the “100-year flood has now doubled” in the Souris, as the basin is still reeling from the devastation caused by 2011 flooding. The Commission accepted a Souris Plan of Study and will be deliberating and providing recommendations to the governments in the near future.
Further east, the memories of surviving more than 60 days of elevated flood waters in 2011 persist in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River watershed. The Commission accepted a report by the Work Group tasked with developing a Plan of Study, which would further evaluate structural and non-structural options for water management in the transboundary watershed shared by Vermont, New York and Quebec. The IJC will deliberate on the Work Group’s findings and recommendations prior to issuing advice to governments.
The IJC’s first international watershed board is the International St. Croix River Watershed Board, which helped to increase understanding of native alewives and the importance of restoring passage to the full length of the river. A recent change in Maine state law allows the return of the native alewives.
If alewives are allowed to run freely along the St. Croix River, scientists expect the population will increase from thousands to millions. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The IJC also appointed a new International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board. The new board combines the former Control and Pollution boards and includes membership from federal, state, and provincial agencies, First Nations, and upstream and downstream communities. The Board is directly informed by operations, citizen and industry advisory groups and has an expanded geographic focus and mandate to update the IJC on aquatic ecosystem health throughout the watershed.
For 104 years, Canada and the U.S. have entrusted the IJC “to examine into and report upon the facts and circumstances of the particular questions and matters referred” under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. Aided by technical experts and local knowledge, the IJC continues to investigate and seek consensus for binational water quality and quantity solutions at a watershed scale to provide advice to governments that considers all interests and is for the common good.
Dereth Glance served as an IJC US Commissioner from July 2011 to September 2016.