If you’re planning repairs to your house or just figuring out what to spend your money on, it’s good to prioritize. The IJC does the same thing, as staff members and Commissioners work to determine what the Commission’s needs are in years to come, and how to spend money most effectively.
When it comes to the IJC’s International Watersheds Initiative, or IWI, looking ahead is typically done over five-year periods, with periodic tweaks and updates to reflect new issues, Commission-wide priorities or changing conditions along the transboundary region.
Some of what the IJC is planning for with the IWI program is a continuation of what it’s already doing. Over the past decade, the IJC has been involved in efforts to harmonize data between Canada and the United States that was originally gathered using different metrics. This harmonized data allows decision makers and agencies to consider the entirety of a watershed like the Great Lakes or the Souris or St. Croix rivers when making choices. At this point, the actual harmonization of data across the transboundary has been finished, and the IJC is shifting its focus to work with federal agencies in Canada and the United States to keep that information updated and available.
The IJC will continue to support SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes (SPARROW) modeling, a particular use case of that data, in transboundary watersheds. The SPARROW model can be used to determine where excess nutrients are entering waterways, providing a useful tool to minimize pollution. Modeling has already been done using 2002 watershed data for the Red River and Great Lakes basins, and plans are in place to update these modeling efforts with newer data.
Given the increasingly extreme weather events hitting transboundary regions, the IJC also is continuing its climate change assessment work through IWI. A pilot project looking at how climate change may affect the St. Croix River and work by the IJC’s St. Croix Watershed Board was completed in 2018, and an effort is underway looking at the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board’s work and region. In coming years, the IJC is planning on completing these climate-related studies for all its boards across the transboundary.
The IJC also is working on compiling a list of past IWI projects and their results, with the intention of making it available and searchable through the IJC website. Further, the IJC is working on new standards for communicating the results of IWI-funded board projects to the public. Finally, there are behind-the-scenes tweaks being made to the program to make it more efficient and ready for the challenges that the region will face in the future, such as climate-related changes to water flows or new invasive species.
The goal of the IWI program has always been to address and help resolve issues facing transboundary regions, with local communities taking the lead, before they become serious international problems. Ensuring that the IJC remains prepared for an ever-changing landscape is as important now as it was when the program started more than a decade ago.
Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.