IJC urges Canada and U.S. to set specific targets around Great Lakes water quality

Ground Water Canada
November 28, 2017
By Ground Water Canada
Nov. 28, 2017, Canada and United States – The International Joint Commission is calling on Canada and the United States to set specific timelines and targets for making improvements to wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, reducing nutrient runoff and eliminating releases of chemicals of mutual concern.

In its First Triennial Assessment of Progress under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the International Joint Commission (IJC) commends the two federal governments for the progress they have made to accelerate the cleanup of contaminated areas of concern, set new loading targets for the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie to reduce harmful algal blooms, and establish the work groups and processes needed to implement the agreement.

However, the IJC finds that work needs to be increased in several key areas, the commission said in a news release.

The IJC identifies specific gaps in achieving the human health objectives of the Agreement for drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters, and recommends that the governments set an accelerated and fixed period of time for effectively achieving zero discharge of inadequately treated or untreated sewage into the Great Lakes. To achieve this goal, the governments must also increase funding for infrastructure and provide support to communities to improve their capacity to respond to extreme storm events, especially as related to combined sewer overflows.

While governments provide safe drinking water nearly everywhere in the Great Lakes basin, unsafe drinking water incidents have occurred in major cities, and some First Nations and Tribes have had longstanding boil water advisories. The IJC recommends that infrastructure be improved to eliminate all longstanding boil water advisories and persistent drinking water violations for communities everywhere in the Great Lakes basin, and that governments monitor and report on source water protection plans.

The IJC also finds that the water quality of western and central Lake Erie remains unacceptable. In order for governments to achieve their new phosphorus loading targets and reduce harmful algal blooms, the IJC recommends that they include the following in their federal, state and provincial action plans: details on timelines, responsibilities for action, and expected deliverables, outcomes and quantifiable performance metrics in order to assure accountability. Actions must include enforceable standards for applying agricultural fertilizer and animal waste, better linkages between agricultural subsidies and conservation practices, and designation by Ohio of the western Lake Erie basin as impaired under the US Clean Water Act.

In the first three years of agreement implementation, only eight chemicals of mutual concern have been identified and no binational management strategies for these chemicals have been completed, the IJC said. It recommends the governments accelerate work on binational strategies with clear timelines set and met for development and implementation. These strategies should have the principle of zero discharge at their core. Governments should also focus on policies and programs based on extended producer responsibility for a broad range of products, including flame retardants, to help prevent releases toxic contaminants at every stage in a product’s life cycle.

The IJC also recommend the governments strengthen public engagement, accountability and funding. One way to do this, they said, is to engage with diverse communities and Tribal, First Nations and Métis governments. Clear, time-bound targets for action are needed as are long-term aspirations for improvements in the status and trends of Great Lakes indicators against which progress can be more definitively assessed. To support further progress, the IJC recommends governments’ financial investment in restoration and prevention continue at current or higher levels.

As a binational organization created by Canada and the United States under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, the International Joint Commission serves as an independent assessor of the progress made by the two governments to achieve the objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. In preparing its First Triennial Assessment of Progress, the IJC reviewed progress reports from the governments, considered the work of its Great Lakes advisory boards and sought views from the public through an extensive consultation effort.

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