Mission and Mandates
The International Joint Commission prevents and resolves disputes between the United States of America and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and pursues the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the two governments.
In particular, the IJC rules upon applications for approval of projects affecting boundary or transboundary waters and may regulate the operation of these projects; it assists the two countries in the protection of the transboundary environment, including the implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the improvement of transboundary air quality; and it alerts the governments to emerging issues along the boundary that may give rise to bilateral disputes.
The treaty provides principles for Canada and the United States to follow in using the waters they share. For example, both countries must agree to any project that would change the natural levels or flows of boundary waters. Far ahead of its time, the treaty also states that waters shall not be polluted on either side of the boundary to the injury of health or property on the other side. The principles in the treaty are as relevant today as they were in 1909. The treaty established the International Joint Commission, with three members from each country. The ongoing work of the IJC helps to fulfill the treaty's purpose of preventing disputes as well as resolving them.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed by Canada and the United States in 1972 following an extensive IJC scientific study that helped officials in both countries agree on actions they would take to clean up the Great Lakes, including building sewage treatment plants and reducing industrial discharges. The agreement required the IJC to report on progress by the governments toward achieving a number of water quality objectives and established a binational Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.
In 1978, the countries signed a new agreement stating that their purpose was to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. They also added a commitment to virtually eliminate the discharge of all persistent toxic substances, which can remain in the environment for many years and contaminate food sources for animals and people. Amendments to the agreement in 1987 established a process for restoring contaminated Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and for eliminating critical pollutants through Lakewide Management Plans.
In 2012, Canada and the United States amended the agreement to address a broader range of threats to water quality and update the agreement’s objectives and binational management structure. New provisions address the nearshore environment, aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation, and the effects of climate change. It also supports continued work on existing threats to people's health and the environment in the Great Lakes basin such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals and discharges from vessels.
The 1950 Treaty Concerning the Diversion of the Niagara River replaces the third, fourth and fifth paragraphs of Article V of the Boundary Waters Treaty. The 1950 treaty concerns the diversion of waters flowing out of Lake Erie into the Welland Canal and the Niagara River (including the Black Rock Canal). The initial paragraph states that Canada and the United States recognize "their primary obligation to preserve and enhance the scenic beauty of the Niagara Falls and River and, consistent with that obligation, their common interest in providing for the most beneficial use of the waters of that river." Waters that were diverted into the natural drainage area of the Great Lakes System through the Long Lac-Ogoki works are covered under an exchange of notes between Governments, and are not included in the water allocated under the provisions of the Niagara Treaty. The Commission Under the 1950 treaty, the IJC recommended the nature and design of remedial works to distribute the waters to produce an unbroken crestline on the falls.
In the 1940s, officials from the United States and Canada began a long process to seek a joint solution to the flooding caused by the unregulated Columbia River and to the postwar demand for greater energy resources. That effort culminated in the Columbia River Treaty, an international agreement between Canada and the United States for the cooperative development of water resources and regulation of flows in the upper Columbia River basin. It was signed in 1961 and implemented in 1964. Under the treaty, the governments may refer matters of difference that they cannot resolve to the IJC for decision.
The 1938 Rainy Lake Convention between the United States and Canada gave the IJC the power to determine when emergency conditions, whether by high or low water, exist in the Rainy Lake watershed. It also directed the IJC to adopt measures of control for the two existing dams at Kettle Falls and the dam at International Falls and Fort Frances along the border between Minnesota and Ontario.
A treaty between Canada and the United States, known as the 1925 Lake of the Woods Convention and Protocol established elevation and discharge requirements for regulating Lake of the Woods based on the IJC recommendations. The Convention and Protocol state that whenever the level of the lake rises above elevation 1,061 ft. (323.47 m) or falls below 1,056 ft. (321.87 m), the rate of discharge of water from the lake shall be subject to the approval of the International Lake of the Woods Control Board. Water levels in Lake of the Woods are otherwise regulated by the Canadian Lake of the Woods Control Board.
The Air Quality Agreement, signed in 1991, committed the two countries to significantly reduce emissions of pollutants that cause acid rain and contribute to smog. It also set up an Air Quality Committee to report every two years on progress. Under the agreement, the IJC invites public comment on the progress reports and provides a synthesis of comments to the Governments of Canada and the United States to assist them with the agreement's implementation.
The 1989 agreement provides for the construction, operation, maintenance and payment for reservoir projects in the Souris River basin in Canada for the purpose of flood control in the United States. It also establishes a joint water quality monitoring program. The IJC oversees the water apportionment and water quality monitoring provisions of the agreement.