IJC recommends comprehensive measures to governments for protecting waters of Great Lakes Basin


The International Joint Commission (IJC) today released a report that provides a blueprint for protecting the waters of the world's largest freshwater ecosystem, the Great Lakes Basin, from the potential impacts of water removals and consumptive uses.

In its Final Report on Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes, the IJC recommends that Canadian and U.S. federal, provincial and state governments should not permit the removal of water from the Great Lakes Basin unless the proponent can demonstrate that the removal will not endanger the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The proponent would also have to demonstrate that there are no practical alternatives to the removal, sound planning has been applied in the proposal, the cumulative impacts of the removal have been considered, conservation practices have been implemented, the removal results in no net loss of waters to the area from which it is taken (and, in any event, no greater than a five percent loss in the process, the current average loss within the Great Lakes Basin) and that all waters are returned in a condition that protects the quality of and prevents the introduction of alien invasive species into the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

The report also recommends that, in order to avoid endangering the integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem, the governments should not approve any proposal for a major new or increased consumptive use of water from the Great Lakes Basin unless full consideration has been given to its potential cumulative impacts, and unless effective conservation practices are implemented, sound planning practices applied, and that all waters returned meet the objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Moreover, the report recommends that governments apply a number of specific conservation measures to significantly improve efficiencies in the use of water in the Great Lakes Basin, including the setting of water prices at a level that encourages conservation.

Because there is uncertainty about the availability of Great Lakes water to meet all ecosystem needs, including human needs, over the long term, the report concludes that water should be managed with caution to protect the resource for the future. It also concludes that international trade law obligations, including the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), do not prevent Canada and the United States from taking measures to protect their water resources and preserving the integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem so long as there is no discrimination against individuals from other countries in the application of those measures.

On the basis of its findings, the IJC also recommends that federal, provincial and state governments should move quickly to remedy deficiencies in water use data; implement long- term comprehensive monitoring programs to detect threats to ecosystem integrity; conduct more extensive studies of the role of groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin; and undertake research on the individual and cumulative impacts of water withdrawals.

The report recommends that governments use and build on existing institutions to implement the IJC's recommendations and that governments should develop standards and procedures for removals and major new or increased consumptive uses. Federal, state and provincial governments should not authorize or permit any new removals, and should exercise caution with respect to major new or increased consumptive use, until these standards have been promulgated or until 24 months have passed, whichever comes first. States and provinces should also build on the Great Lakes Charter by developing a broader range of consultation procedures than currently exist.

As requested in the Reference from governments, the report proposes a plan of work to better understand the implications of water consumption, diversions and removals along the rest of the boundary beyond the Great Lakes Basin, focusing on priority issues where the IJC can contribute binational experience and resources.

The Final Report responds to the request made by the governments of Canada and the United States in their February 10, 1999 Water Uses Reference for recommendations for the protection of the Great Lakes. The IJC previously issued an Interim Report under this Reference on August 18, 1999. Since issuing its Interim Report, the IJC has obtained additional information from a variety of sources, including 12 public hearings. The IJC has also consulted government officials and experts on climate change, cumulative impacts, and international trade and water law.

For more information, including the IJC's Final Report on Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes , visit www.ijc.org on the World Wide Web. Copies of the Final Report are also available upon request at the addresses below:

Secretary, Canadian Section 
234 Laurier Avenue West 
22 nd floor 
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6K6 
Fax 613.993.5583 
Commission@ottawa.ijc.org Secretary, United States Section 
1250 23 rd Street NW 
Suite 100 
Washington, DC 20440 
Fax 202.736.9015 

The International Joint Commission was created under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help prevent and resolve disputes over the use of waters along the Canada-United States boundary. Under the Rainy Lake Convention of 1938, the Commission also sets the outflow from Rainy and Namakan Lakes to prevent them from reaching emergency high and low water conditions.

Contacts: Frank Bevacqua Washington, D.C. (202) 736-9024 Fabien Lengellé Ottawa, Ontario (613) 995-0088



Final Report on the Use, Diversion and Exports of Great Lakes Water

On February 10, 1999, the United States and Canadian federal governments asked the IJC to examine and report on the consumption, diversion and removal of waters along the common border, including removals in bulk for export.

The request from governments came in the wake of proposals to export water overseas from Canada, and litigation involving a scheme to export of water from Canada to the United States. Both governments are concerned that existing management principles and conservation measures may be inadequate to ensure future sustainable use of shared waters.

The need to review the management and use of transboundary water resources was raised by the IJC in a 1997 report entitled The IJC and the 21st Century. The IJC said such a review was needed to ensure that water and related resources are managed in a rational, consistent and anticipatory way to prevent transboundary disputes. In their letters of reference to the IJC for this new investigation, the governments repeated the concern that future proposals to use, divert and remove greater amounts of such waters can be expected.

The request from the governments asked the IJC to examine, report upon and provide recommendations on the following matters which may have effects on levels and flows of water within transboundary basins and shared aquifers:

  1. Existing and potential consumptive uses of water;
  2.  Existing and potential diversions of water in and out of the transboundary basins, including withdrawals of water for export;
  3.  The cumulative effects of existing and potential diversions and removals of water, including removals in bulk for export;
  4.  The current laws and policies as may affect the sustainability of the water resources in boundary and transboundary basins.

The governments asked the IJC to build on its experience, notably its study of Great Lakes diversions and consumptive uses that concluded in 1985, and to submit interim recommendations for the protection of Great Lakes waters within six months of receipt of the Reference. The Interim Report was issued on August 10, 1999. A final report with recommendations on the broader issue of U.S.-Canada shared waters was requested within six months of the interim recommendations.

More information, including the full text of the letter of reference, may be found on the Commission's web site, at www.ijc.org.