Monday, October 17, 2011

IJC Report On Great Lakes Water Quality Since 1987

Oct 14: The International Joint Commission (IJC) released a draft report that is a preliminary effort to describe changes in the health of the Great Lakes over the past quarter century. The report, released during the IJC's Biennial Meeting on Great Lakes Water Quality at Great Lakes Week in Detroit, measures some of the progress made by the U.S. and Canada in fulfilling their respective commitments to protect and restore their shared waters under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), first signed in 1972 and amended in 1987. At present, the governments of Canada and the United States are working to renew this Agreement to better meet current challenges facing the Great Lakes. IJC is accepting comments on the report until November 30, 2011.

    Canadian Section Chair Joseph Comuzzi said, "Our two countries have made major investments to restore and maintain Great Lakes water quality over the decades. We need to take stock of the results as we set goals for the coming decades. Although the results are mixed, they show that there has been progress and there is a clear need to update the Agreement to better address emerging threats." U.S. Section Chair Lana Pollack said, "The Great Lakes are at the heart of our economy and quality of life. We need good up-to-date-science based information to assess how well Canada and the United States are protecting these waters. This draft report is an important step toward understanding the larger picture."

    The draft report indicates that levels of many older chemicals have decreased in herring gulls, fish and sediments, especially from 1987-2000. However, results differ for some newer chemicals, such as PBDE (flame retardants) levels in fish increased considerably from 1987 to 2000. In addition, 34 non-native aquatic species were introduced into the Great Lakes, but none have become established since 2006. The burrowing mayfly and lake sturgeon have started to return, but lake trout populations have not changed measurably. Diporeia, a small shrimp-like crustacean that is a key part of the aquatic food web has almost disappeared.

    The draft report uses seven measures of biological integrity, six measures of chemical integrity, and one measure of physical integrity, to assess changes in the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. It draws on the best indicators of ecosystem trends available from government agencies and the academic research community. The Commission plans to publish a report in 2012 based on comments received and subsequent research.   

    One observation of the report is that while the Commission reviewed the 2009 SOLEC (State of the Lake Ecosystem Conference) indicators to see to what degree they can be used to evaluate progress since 1987 and to see how well they address the Commission's Task Force recommendations to address swimmability, fishability and drinkability. The Commission found only several of the 80 indicators were useful for evaluating progress since 1987. Several of the sources for this report came from outside of SOLEC. The Commission continues to be concerned that excessive effort is expended on too many indicators that have limited utility. Selecting and reporting on a smaller and continued set of core indicators should be the priority. The core set should include some with historical data back to 1987, some on the nearshore and some on human health. The indicators and a report assessing progress based on those indicators should be provided by the governments in the next reporting period.

        Access an announcement with commenting instructions and link to the complete 173-page report (click here).