Joe Comuzzi, Canadian Chair of the IJC said, "With the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement just revised in 2012, both Canada and the U.S. have renewed and strengthened their commitment to protect and restore the Great Lakes. Tight budgets on both sides of the border mean that cooperation and coordination of clean-up efforts are even more important, and the recommendations in this report can help." Lana Pollack, IJC U.S. Chair said, "The data show some significant progress. However, the evidence equally indicates that more investments are needed. Protecting and restoring the Great Lakes is a job that is never done."
Established by treaty in 1909, the IJC's six commissioners are charged with advising the governments of Canada and the United States on matters relating to the thousands of miles of shared boundary waters. Last year both governments signed a revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and once again asked the IJC to report regularly on the health of the lakes and on how well the governments are meeting their obligations under the Agreement. The new IJC report is based on 16 measures of Great Lakes health that indicate the status of the chemical, physical and biological health of the Lakes. Additionally, IJC also released a longer Technical Report with more supporting information.
IJC indicates that the seven indicators of chemical integrity show mostly favorable or stable results since 1987, reflecting the success of policy changes implemented in both countries after the original 1972 Agreement. However, some data also reveal a leveling off or even a reversal of reductions in toxic chemicals such as mercury and nutrient loadings in the past decade and earlier.
The five biological indicators reveal mixed results. For example, the small, bottom-dwelling shrimp-like organism, Diporeia, an important part of the food chain, was once abundant in cold, offshore regions of the Great Lakes but is now completely absent from large areas of Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie. Also, from 1987 to 2006, 34 new non-native species became established in the Great Lakes, causing extensive and costly damage to the ecosystem. However, no new invasive species are known to have been introduced through ballast water since modifications in ballast water management regulations were implemented in 2006, though two species were established via other routes.
The two physical indicators show rising surface water temperatures and reduced ice cover, likely signals of climate change. Warming Great Lakes raise concerns about maintenance of native coldwater fish species and an increase in algae blooms, among other effects. The indicators are also relevant to the IJC's responsibilities for managing water levels and flows. Concerns about global climate change prompted the IJC to support further inquiry into adaptive management practices that might be essential to minimize future damage to many Great Lakes interests.
According to a release, under the revised Agreement, the parties and the IJC will be convening the Great Lakes Public Forum, to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 9-10. In conjunction with Great Lakes Week, the Forum is an opportunity for the public to receive updates from governments regarding the state of the lakes and future plans for science and action. At the Forum, the IJC will provide information and solicit public input regarding ecosystem and human health indicators and how it plans to assess progress towards restoration. The final report of the IJC's Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority will also be published in advance of the Forum.
Access a release from IJC (click here). Access the complete 46-page 16th Biennial Report (click here). Access the 231-page Technical Report (click here). Access links to previous Biennial Reports (click here). Access further information on the upcoming September Forum (click here). Access more information on the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority report (click here). [GLakes]