Commission Calls For New Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

On Oct. 24, the International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States issued a report recommending that the governments of the two nations replace the current Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with a shorter and more action-oriented document.

The commission urges that the new agreement be signed by the president and prime minister, and endorsed by the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament. It also urges that the new pact include a commitment to the early development of a Binational Action Plan with achievable goals and timelines, measures for evaluating performance, and provisions for monitoring and reporting for greater accountability when it comes to the cleanup of the Great Lakes.

Earlier this year, the national governments launched a comprehensive review of the operation and effectiveness of the agreement, which has guided the cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes by providing the vital framework for binational cooperation, consultation and action since 1972. The agreement has not been revised nor updated since 1987.

While the commission acknowledges the successes of the current agreement, it points out that more has to be done. The report strongly promotes a new way of working with a focus on government accountability. In particular, the commission recommends creation of a new high-level agreement steering committee, composed of the heads of federal departments and agencies, to oversee implementation of the agreement.

The commission recommends that the new agreement and the Binational Action Plan incorporate the concepts of ecosystem protection and watershed planning, include human health as a clear objective, and use the ecosystem approach. Also, the commission states that there should be an increased focus on biological integrity with a specific reference to the issue of alien invasive species.

In addition, the commission says that the public should play a greater role in assessing progress under a new agreement.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States expresses the commitment of each country to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

In preparing the special report, the commission considered the research, analysis and advice provided by its advisory boards, as well as the information and views received during its consultation process with the public in 2005. These public views are reflected in a synthesis document published by the commission earlier this year.

The report, "Advice To Governments On Their Review Of The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement," can be accessed in PDF format at http://www.ijc.org/rel/pdf/advicefinalwc.pdf.

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