Canada and U.S. update protection of Great Lakes

Canada and the US have recently updated a decades-old agreement to protect the Great Lakes.

The new Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed on September 7, 2012, binds both nations to continue a cleanup and restoration initiative that began nearly 40 years ago. It calls for further action on problems that inspired the original agreement, as many of the lakes’ beaches were littered with foul algae blooms and dead fish at the time. However, it also includes sections based on more modern issues facing the lakes.

Given the old agreement was first signed in 1978, new sections now include environmental challenges like climate change, loss of wildlife habitat, and a variety of invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels as well as Asian carp. Not only this, but the new agreement also aims to be more proactive, calling for the region’s government to identify potential threats before they develop into larger problems.

“The amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement we signed today outlines the strong commitment the U.S. and Canada share to safeguard the largest freshwater system in the world,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Lisa Jackson, who signed the updated agreement with Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

While environmental groups were generally positive about the changes, according to reports, there is some skepticism about whether provincial and federal governments will enact strong enough laws and provide the money necessary to properly monitor and restore the lakes, as agreed upon.

Over the past few years, the U.S. has committed more than $1 billion to its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, while Canada has committed around $50 million toward remediation of areas of concern, combatting toxic algae, and protection against Asian carp.

The International Joint Commission will monitor how the current agreement is implemented. While this group can make recommendations to both the Canadian and U.S. governments, Lana Pollock, who chairs the U.S. section of the group, said it’s up to the public to call on officials to do a better job of protecting the lakes.