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TEACH: Great Lakes Law & Policy

4 | Binational Agreements and Treaties

The Great Lakes basin extends into both the United States and Canada, with all of the lakes except one (Lake Michigan) bordered by both countries. Therefore, state-by-state or province-by-province policy does not work as effectively as a regional approach. Governments of the Great Lakes region have implemented several agreements and organizations intended to protect the Great Lakes as a whole, some of which are listed below.

The 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty was created to provide the principles and mechanisms necessary to help prevent and resolve disputes concerning water quantity and water quality along the boundary between Canada and the United States. The International Joint Commission (IJC), created as a result of the treaty, is the independent binational organization responsible for carrying out these duties.

The IJC recognizes that each country is affected by the other's actions in lake and river systems along the border, including the Great Lakes. The IJC is charged with investigating water and air quality in the region, and recommending actions for improvement. Every two years, the IJC reports on progress under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (see below), recommending actions to both the United States and Canada. The latest report, released in spring 2000, reported that many of the objectives of the agreement have not been reflected in the two governments' implementation efforts. The IJC believes that much more needs to be done by both governments to ensure safe drinking water, healthy fish and clean air. View the 2000 report.

Sea Lamprey. Click to see larger image. The governments of the United States and Canada ratified the 1955 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, which created the binational Great Lakes Fishery Commission. After several failed attempts at binational cooperation, the explosive population of sea lamprey, a non-native fish species, propelled the two nations to work together in battling the lamprey's destructive effects on the Great Lakes native fish population. The Commission's main responsibilities include developing coordinated programs of research and recommending measures, promoting the productivity of Great Lakes fish populations, and formulating and implementing programs to control and eliminate Great Lakes sea lamprey populations.

Industrial pollution. Click for larger image. In 1972, Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in recognition of the urgent need to improve water quality in the Great Lakes. In 1978, the agreement was amended to include toxic contamination. The Agreement evolved into an ecosystem approach, recognizing the importance and interconnectedness of all components of the environment: water, air and land. The agreement includes a number of objectives and guidelines to achieve these goals, such as the elimination of toxic chemicals in Great Lakes waters, financial assistance to construct wastewater treatment facilities, and the development of best management practices to control most sources of pollutants. Many binational programs have been developed out of the agreement, such as the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy (see next page) and the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences.

In 1987, the governments of Canada and the United States signed a protocol to the agreement which identified 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). AOCs are environmentally degraded areas along the Great Lakes shoreline in need of immediate remediation. The protocol directs the two federal governments to cooperate with state and provincial governments to develop and implement Remedial Action Plans for each Area of Concern. Read TEACH's module, Great Lakes Areas of Concern, for more information.


Graphics: Sea Lamprey shown attached to a Lake Trout; Industrial pollution in Indiana Harbor.

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