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10 years later: What still needs to be done to protect the Great Lakes?

In May, the International Joint Commission (IJC) released the draft Ten Year Review of the International Joint Commission’s Report on “Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes.” Ralph Pentland, President of Ralbet Enterprises, and Dr. Alex Mayer, Professor of Environmental and Geological Engineering at Michigan Technological University, authors of the report, give a very thorough review of advancements and what is happening around the Great Lakes Basin.

Photo courtesy of myheimu/Creative Commons.

The IJC created a process to invite public comment to the draft report that looks at advances and issues related to consumptive use, legal and policy considerations, diversions and other removals, water use data, cumulative impacts, climate change, groundwater and conservation.

The recommendations in the report which include:

RECOMMENDATION 1: The existing Agreement and Compact should continue to be rigorously implemented to minimize loss of water from the Basin.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The precautionary approach regarding diversions should continue to guide the States and Provinces in order to protect the Great Lakes from an ever increasing number of larger-scale removals.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The Great Lakes States and Provinces, in collaboration with the two federal governments, should continue to investigate methodologies for improving the accuracy of water use and consumptive use estimates.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Further refinement of water balance components should continue to occur through federal agencies such the USGS, NOAA, US Army Corps of  Engineers, and Environment Canada. Assuming that the science will continue to evolve rapidly,the Regional Body/Council should continuously review new knowledge regarding lake-wide hydrology and incorporate new advancement in decision-making processes.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Considering the large uncertainties surrounding climate change and other human impacts on the hydrologic cycle, federal, provincial and state governments should continue to take an adaptive management approach in decision-making. Advancements in the state of science on climate change impacts in the Great Lakes should be encouraged by federal, state and provincial governments through further funding and a synthesis of the state of the science.

RECOMMENDATION 6: Great Lakes States and Provinces should fully factor the adverse ecological and water quality impacts of groundwater withdrawals into both water use permitting procedures and decisions regarding consumptive use. Federal, state and provincial research should focus on predicting where groundwater supplies may be degraded in the future and identify management methods for avoiding these problems.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The IJC recommends broad-based collaboration among public and private sectors to fix leaking water infrastructure, support innovation, and increase funding to close the region’s water infrastructure deficit and unlock water conservation potential region wide.

In the Council of Canadians comments to the draft report, we agree with most of the recommendations but call for the following additions to ensure the Great Lakes are protected for today and tomorrow’s generation:

·        Implementation of commons and public trust principles in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement and the Great Lakes Compact

·        Strengthening environmental legislation and water programs

·        Protection the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin from bulk water exports and bottled water withdrawals

·        Protection Great Lakes governments from trade lawsuits

·        Obtaining free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples on Great Lakes matters

·        Launching a study on extreme energy impacts in the Great Lakes

·        Investing in public water and wastewater

To read the Council of Canadians’ submission to the draft Ten Year Review of the International Joint Commission’s Report on “Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes,” click here.