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USA, Canada to Modernize Great Lakes Water Quality Pact


Niagara Falls, view from Ontario (flickr photo by Baloulumix)

NIAGARA FALLS, New York, June 15, 2009 (ENS) - The United States and Canada have agreed to update the 37-year-old Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that commits both countries "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon met Saturday at the Rainbow Bridge that connects the two countries to announce their intention to modernize the agreement.

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.

"We have to update it to reflect new knowledge, new technologies and, unfortunately, new threats," Secretary Clinton said.

When the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was first signed in 1972, the major issue was phosphorus over-enrichment. The agreement was updated in 1978, when the major issue was ridding the Great Lakes of persistent toxic substances.

The pact was amended in 1987, when new annexes focusing on nonpoint sources of contaminants in groundwater and sediment as well as airborne toxic substances were added.

Now, the threat of climate change and other problems have emerged to make another renegotiation necessary, the officials said.

"The agreement was last amended in 1987, and since then, new invasive species have appeared in our lakes, new worrisome chemicals have emerged from our industrial processes, our knowledge of the ecology of the region and how to protect it has grown considerably. In its current form, the Great Lakes agreement does not sufficiently address the needs of our shared ecosystem," Clinton said.

"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," Cannon said. "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 announcement came during the official celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty, of which the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is a part.

Clinton said, "We are celebrating, because the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Boundary Waters Treaty marks a recognition of a ground-breaking agreement, one of the first in the world to recognize the environmental consequences of managing our natural resources, ensuring clean drinking water, protecting the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system, the Niagara Falls and Niagara River that are such magnificent treasures.


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"The Boundary Water Treaty of 1909 made official something that people on both sides of the border had known for generations," Clinton said. "That the rivers, the lakes, the streams, the watersheds along our boundary do not belong to one nation or the other, but to both of us, and we are therefore called to be good stewards in the care of these precious resources."

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is considered a model of international cooperation and has achieved numerous successes, including a reduction in the levels of pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, dioxin and furans.

But 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 better address these perils.

The nonprofit coalition Great Lakes United applauded the announcement that the two countries will renegotiate the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

"Citizens and organizations from across the region have been calling on the Canadian and United States governments to truly commit to the binational protection of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River," said John Jackson, director of clean production and toxics at Great Lakes United. "With this announcement I'm more optimistic than ever that our governments will reinvigorate their dedication to shared responsibility and stewardship over these vital waters."

In 2007, the coalition identified 13 principles to guide renegotiation and member groups are now working to further detail these and ensure that they are included in the agreement.

"Any renegotiation must involve the public, and it must build a framework for addressing the issues that the Great Lakes will face over the coming years and decades," said Jackson. "Making the announcement is the easy part. The real work has only just begun."

The announcement 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, nongovernmental organizations and other Great Lakes stakeholders.

Cannon said 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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