Canada and United States Committed to Amend Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

(No. 161 - June 13, 2009)The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today announced, during the official celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty, that Canada and the United States are committed to amending the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

“These inland waters are the largest system of fresh surface water in the world, part of our natural heritage and the foundation for billions of dollars in trade, shipping, agriculture, recreation and other sectors,” said Minister Cannon. “In seeking to amend the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, we will modernize it to address new challenges and reduce pollution. Joint stewardship of the environment is a cornerstone of the Canada-U.S. relationship. This aspect of our long history of collaboration will remain strong as we begin a second century of jointly managing our shared waters, which have served as both a treasured resource and a critical transportation link.”

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement addresses threats to water quality in the Great Lakes and in the portion of the St. Lawrence River that straddles the Canada-U.S. border.

First signed in 1972, and last amended in 1987, the Agreement affirms the rights and obligations of Canada and the U.S. under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, in particular their obligation not to pollute boundary waters. The Agreement is a model of international cooperation and has achieved numerous successes, including a significant reduction in the levels of pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, dioxin and furans. The Great Lakes have also seen the return of key species such as the bald eagle, signalling a return of the ecosystem’s health.

However, the Great Lakes are still at risk from current and emerging challenges such as increased population and urbanization, land use practices, invasive species, new chemicals and the impacts of climate change. Negotiations over the coming months will aim to strengthen and modernize the Agreement to better address these perils.

“The Great Lakes are a crucial environmental, social and economic resource,” said the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of the Environment. “The Great Lakes ecosystem is best protected through a coordinated effort, under an amended agreement that supports objectives on both sides of the border.”

The announcement of the Government of Canada’s intention to amend the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was made after considering input from the Government of Ontario, First Nations, municipalities, non-governmental organizations and other Great Lakes stakeholders. Continued engagement of these partners will be important to ensure that an amended agreement establishes a cooperative agenda for action by all parties in order to continue to improve Great Lakes water quality and aquatic ecosystem health.

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A backgrounder on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Canada’s initiatives regarding the Great Lakes follows.

For further information, media representatives may contact:

Natalie Sarafian
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada


The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Canada’s Initiatives Regarding the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) is a model of international cooperation that has led to new thinking on environmental policy. First signed in 1972, and last amended in 1987, this agreement demonstrates Canada and the United States’ commitment to restoring and maintaining the integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem.

The GLWQA addresses water quality issues in the Great Lakes Basin and the portion of the St. Lawrence River that straddles the Canada-U.S. border. It sets out common objectives and commitments, and outlines provisions for the development of cooperative programs and research. It also assigns special responsibilities to the International Joint Commission, an independent advisory body that works to prevent and resolve disputes between Canada and the United States under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

Working under the GLWQA, Canada and the United States have instituted major changes to waste-water treatment and land-management practices to significantly reduce the levels in the Great Lakes of pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, dioxins and furans.

Current Government of Canada efforts in the Great Lakes include restoring ecosystem health in areas of concern, developing and implementing Canada-U.S. management plans, reducing pollution, and carrying out monitoring and research. For example, the government has allocated $48.9 million to accelerate the cleanup of contaminated sediment in eight areas of concern. These initiatives are funded, in part, through the government’s Great Lakes Action Plan and its Action Plan for Clean Water.

In recent years, the Canadian government has taken numerous strides in protecting the Great Lakes for communities and ecosystems that depend upon a safe and secure supply of water, including the following initiatives:

  • In October 2007, the government announced a five-year, $60-million commitment to the Health of the Oceans Initiative. This initiative protects Canada’s waterways from ship-source pollution by enforcing regulations, improving monitoring capabilities and supporting pollution-prevention research.
  • In May 2007, the government announced Canada’s new consolidated, zero-tolerance national regulations for the prevention of pollution from ships and for dangerous chemicals. The regulations apply to all ships in Canadian waters and make it illegal for them to deliberately, negligently or accidentally discharge pollutants into the marine environment.
  • In 2006, Minister Cannon, then Canada’s Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, announced that, under the Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations, there would be zero tolerance for the dumping of ballast waters in the Great Lakes. This prohibition further reduces the risk of harmful aquatic species and pathogens being introduced into Canadian waters.