IJC Describes Work in U.S.-Canada Dispute Resolution

While participating in World Water Week, the International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States (IJC) released a report that describes how the IJC has helped Canada and the United States prevent and resolve disputes over shared fresh waters and other transboundary environmental issues along their 8,800-kilometer (5,500-mile) boundary, 40 percent of which is water.

"The Annual Report 2008 -- Boundary Waters Treaty Centennial Edition" highlights the IJC's activities in each Canada-U.S. transboundary watershed during the past century and outlines the IJC’s activities in 2008.

"This report offers a glimpse into the activities of IJC and some of its more interesting cases, such as the "paper dam" arrangement between the city of Seattle and the province of British Columbia." said U.S. Chair Irene Brooks. "We undertook this special report during the Treaty's centennial year to release during World Water Week in Stockholm as we hope our lessons learned over the last 100 years can help other regions of the world develop the mechanisms and means to share their transboundary waters in a peaceful and cooperative fashion," said Herb Gray, Canadian Chair.

One of the themes at World Water Week 2009 was "Transboundary basins where coordinated policies and co-management are of utmost importance."

The Boundary Waters Treaty was signed in 1909 to resolve existing and future issues and provide a framework for cooperation over the use of the waters shared by Canada and the United States. The treaty established the IJC to help the two countries carry out its provisions.

At the time, settlers in Montana and Alberta were building competing canals to divert the waters of the St. Mary and Milk Rivers for their own use. On the Niagara River, it was increasingly clear that the two countries needed a management plan that could balance the growing demand for hydroelectric power with the interests of navigation, while safeguarding the unique natural beauty of Niagara Falls.

The treaty provides principles, rather than detailed prescriptions, to guide the two countries and the IJC. The IJC has the authority to approve, reject or approve with conditions applications to build dams and other structures that would affect natural water levels or flows across the boundary. In light of the cholera and typhoid outbreaks of the time, the countries also made the far-sighted commitment not to pollute the waters to an extent that would cause injury to health or property in the other country.

The treaty has proved to be relevant as new issues arise. Through its International Watersheds Initiative and other forward-looking activities, the IJC has shown how the treaty can remain the cornerstone for binational cooperation in the 21st Century.

More information about the 100th Anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty can be found at ijc.bwt.org, including a searchable database of all the case files of the Commission over the last 100 years.

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