U.S., Canada Sign Water Quality Agreement With Provisions on Climate, Invasive Species

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.

Countries to Tackle 43 Areas of Concern.

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:

• Develop, within three years, binational objectives for phosphorus concentrations, loading targets, and loading allocations for Lake Erie;

• Develop, within five years, binational phosphorus reduction strategies and domestic action plans to meet the objectives for phosphorus concentrations and loading targets in Lake Erie;

• Assess, 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;

• Identify 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

• undertake 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 blooms.


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 runoff.

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.