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A Lot Has Changed in the Great Lakes Since 1987….

As the United States and Canada celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Boundary Water Treaty this weekend in Niagara Falls, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon announced that they will renegotiate a fundamental Great Lakes pact, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

For the first time since 1987, a time when Guns N’ Roses was a real band and Thurman Thomas was still in college, the two governments are showing their shared commitment to the Great Lakes and their desire to push protection ahead.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is a fundamental driving force of much of the protection we’ve seen for the Great Lakes in the past four decades. It has helped bring Lake Erie back from the brink of death and fostered world-leading scientific research in pollution prevention.

Unfortunately, much has changed since the last revision in 1987. Zebra mussels had not exploded onto the scene while Areas of Concern, and their associated Remedial Action Plans, were a concept being rolled out. In the first fifteen years since its original version, the Water Quality Agreement had been negotiated three times, each time expanding and working further towards a more holistic, ecosystem approach.

Today, our lakes and communities face unanticipated challenges, like global climate change and new toxic chemicals like pharmaceuticals in our water, that President Nixon and Prime Minister Trudeau could never have imagined when they signed the first Agreement in 1972.

Now, over twenty years since the 1987 reversion, the Canadian and U.S. governments are set to begin the process anew. And while this is truly great news that presents unprecedented opportunity, the hard work is still yet to come. How can the two governments update an international agreement based on a framework from the last century and turn it into a progressive, forward looking protection tool for the natural wonder that is the Great Lakes? Great Lakes United and our allies are currently working to draft a list of recommendations to the governments, as has the independent body, the International Joint Commission.

For a new version of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to be truly successful in ways that past versions have not, it is essential that the public be involved in all phases of the Agreement: from renegotiation to implementation. Ignoring or alienating the people that live, work, and play on and along the shores of these lakes would only set the governments up for failure.

It is important that we, as citizens, begin to make our voice heard as early as possible. This can begin with contacting Secretary of State Clinton and our elected representatives to congratulate them for deciding to renegotiate the Agreement and to encourage their continued commitment to meaningful public involvement. As we prepare for the renegotiation process to begin, be sure to check regularly for more information.

Photo: (Irene Brooks – U.S. IJC Co-chair, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Herb Gray – CA IJC Co-chair, and CA Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon at Niagara Falls on Friday – Photo: Brent Gibson)

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