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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Commission Offers U.S. And Canada Recommendations To Improve Great Lakes Water Quality

Matt Hudson, Northland College Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation
The International Joint Commission is advising the U.S. and Canadian governments to eliminate blue-green algae blooms in Lake Superior. The potentially toxic blooms have appeared in coastal areas like this along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

A binational commission, representing Canada and the United States, is making three recommendations it says will improve the two governments’ ability to protect the Great Lakes.

The group, called the International Joint Commission (IJC), has some experience in advising the two countries.

It was created more than a century ago — through the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty — specifically to prevent conflicts between the two countries over shared water resources.

As part of its job, every three years the IJC assesses and reportson the effectiveness of U.S. and Canadian efforts to improve Great Lakes water quality.

In a briefing Thursday, Canadian chair commissioner Pierre Béland and U.S. chair commission Jane Corwin laid out three recommendations the commission believes will help the two countries do better.

"One, develop a plan for a better way to assess progress through collaboration. Two, lead the charge to eliminate climate-driven, blue-green algal blooms in Lake Superior. And three, transform their lakewide action and management program outreach and engagement model," Corwin explained.

Credit Brenda Moraska Lafrancois / National Park Service
National Park Service
Blue-green algae sample gathered by the National Park Service at a Bayfield Peninsula beach on Lake Superior.

Collaboration, of course, makes sense but why target Lake Superior where algal blooms are just emerging? Other Great Lakes, especially western Lake Erie have been battling the toxic problem for years.

Corwin explained the reasoning: "Lake Superior is warming more rapidly than any of the other lakes due to climate change. Warming temperatures and more intense rain events are making it more vulnerable than ever to persistent, potentially toxic algal blooms. Adapting to the impacts of climate change on our shared Great Lakes requires government leadership. Lake Superior offers governments the opportunity to showcase that climate leadership."

READ: International Joint Commission Gathers Scientific And Community Input In Milwaukee

Whatever action U.S. and Canada decided to take, Corwin said engaging and listening to people living throughout the Great Lakes is vital as the two countries consider programs and policies affecting the basin’s health.

"When I traveled with Pierre and commissioners to our meetings around the Great Lakes basin last year one thing was clear — the constituents of the Great Lakes have strong connections with the waters and want meaningful opportunities for communication and engagement," she said.

Pierre Béland said while the IJC has a long history of using science to thoughtfully advise the two countries; at the end of the day it only advises U.S. and Canadian leaders.

"The IJC is not a government body; the IJC is an independent [body] but we are there to comment on what the parties have done every three years for protecting the lakes, for enhancing water quality. We do not comment on policies, specific regulations," said Béland. "But we can comment on what the results of those will be in the years to come."

As for the recommendations it shared Thursday, the commission believes they are “actionable” and can be achieved in the next two years — in plenty of time for the next Great Lakes progress report scheduled for 2023.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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