zebra mussels cover the bottom of the Detroit river photo by USGS

‘Early Warning System’ for Great Lakes Water Quality Threats Advanced by Report from IJC Board


Windsor, Ontario

Imagine a basinwide system that detects and prevents Great Lakes’ water quality threats. The International Joint Commission Great Lakes Science Advisory Board recently completed the second phase of efforts to develop a Great Lakes Early Warning System framework, which would allow researchers and governments to detect and address water quality threats before they become established.  

The board is hosting a 60-minute Zoom webinar on June 13, 2024, starting at 3 p.m. (ET) to summarize its latest phase 2 report “Operationalizing an Early Warning System for the Great Lakes.” The report outlines a decision-making framework to guide the early detection and mitigation of possible threats. Board members will summarize the report and recommendations, and answer audience questions. Advanced registration is required for this free public webinar via bit.ly/SAB-GLEWS or us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_nMl01oIzQwGjdL5paPgD7w.

“Imagine if we prevented zebra mussels from entering the Great Lakes system,” said Lucinda Johnson, board co-chair and director of research at the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth. “A Great Lakes Early Warning System could allow government agencies and decision-makers to get ahead of the curve of potential issues in the Great Lakes.”  

“This Early Warning System is focused on detecting and addressing slow-onset threats to the Great Lakes,” said Michael Twiss, member of the board’s Research Coordinating Committee and a biology professor at Algoma University. “These can take months or even years to become established, but once they hit a critical tipping point, they affect the ecosystem’s ability to recover. Detecting these types of threats requires systemic monitoring, looking for specific indicators, backed by solid knowledge systems.”    

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is responsible under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to identify and report emerging Great Lakes water quality issues to the Canadian and United States federal governments. The Great Lakes Science Advisory Board’s development of a Great Lakes Early Warning System assists the Commission with these Agreement responsibilities.  

In 2020, the board released its Phase 1 report “Towards a Great Lakes Early Warning System,”  which developed an organizational framework. The board’s third phase of work will use case studies to test the Phase 2 proposed system framework using current stressors in the Great Lakes. 


The International Joint Commission (IJC) was established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help Canada and the United States prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters the two countries share. The IJC’s responsibilities include reporting on progress made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes and connecting waters. The Great Lakes Science Advisory Board provides advice on scientific matters to the IJC on Great Lakes water quality issues. More information can be found at IJC.org. 



Rachel Wyatt, Great Lakes Regional Office, Communications Officer, (226) 787-0721, rachel.wyatt@ijc.org