The United States and Canada signed Sept. 7 an amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with
revisions to emphasize pollution prevention, climate change impacts on coastal
communities, threats from invasive species, and updated phosphorus standards for
open waters and near-shore areas of each lake.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was first signed in 1972 and
last updated in 1987, represents commitments by both countries to tackle the
changing conditions of the lakes in response to a variety of factors, including
climate change, invasive species, development, and nutrients.
The agreement requires both countries to restore and maintain the biological,
chemical, and physical integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. The
International Joint Commission, which oversaw the negotiations, assists the
United States and Canada in resolving disputes over 300 bodies of water that the
two countries share.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson was on hand to
sign the document alongside Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent. Jackson
said the agreement was “prevention oriented” because all the various interest
groups with a stake in the lakes decided that it was better not to wait until
damage occurs but to take action ahead of time.
Kent said the agreement recommits both countries to tackle the 43 areas of
concern that are severely degraded or contaminated. He said 17 of these areas of
concern are located in Canada, and that three have been fully remediated and at
least four are in the process of being rehabilitated.
“The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports our shared responsibility
to restore and protect this critical resource, and builds on 40 years of
binational success,” Kent said.
“The new protocol comes at a critical time and provides tools needed to
address old threats such as pollution and to respond to new ones such as climate
change and invasive species,” said Lana Pollack, U.S. co-chair of the
International Joint Commission.
Pollack, who was present at the signing, said the agreement is “just words on
a page until it's brought to fruition through implementation.”
The agreement calls upon both countries to update phosphorus standards for
open waters and near-shore areas of each lake. Specifically, the agreement calls
upon EPA and Environment Canada to:
within three years, binational objectives for phosphorus concentrations, loading
targets, and loading allocations for Lake Erie;
within five years, binational phosphorus reduction strategies and domestic
action plans to meet the objectives for phosphorus concentrations and loading
targets in Lake Erie;
develop, and implement programs to reduce phosphorus loadings from urban, rural,
industrial, and agricultural sources. This will include proven best management
practices, along with new approaches and technologies;
priority watersheds that contribute significantly to lakewide or local algae
development, and develop and implement management plans to achieve phosphorus
load reduction targets and controls; and
and share research, monitoring and modeling necessary to establish, report on
and assess the management of phosphorus and other nutrients and improve the
understanding of relevant issues associated with nutrients and excessive algal
Jackson and Kent both were asked whether there were any specific climate
change prevention measures that the governments were considering for the Great
Lakes. Jackson said there were no specific measures aimed at climate change
itself, but its impacts would be considered “broadly” among the many impacts
felt in the Great Lakes.
Jackson emphasized that communities living near the lakes would be encouraged
to consider green infrastructure techniques to manage stormwater and nutrient
By Amena H. Saiyid
Text of the amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is available at http://tinyurl.com/d3v4tnz.
An overview of the agreement is available at http://tinyurl.com/93oq2vq.