Canada and U.S. Great Lakes water quality agreement: overview

1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

On April 15, 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and President Richard Nixon signed the Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) in recognition of the urgent need to improve environmental conditions in the Great Lakes.

The 1972 GLWQA committed Canada and the United States to restore and enhance water quality in the Great Lakes ecosystem. The Agreement established basinwide water quality objectives and binational commitment on the design, implementation and monitoring of associated programs.

President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signing the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, April 15, 1972.
Photo: President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
signing the GLWQA, April 15, 1972.

1978 Revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

The revised 1978 GLWQA reaffirmed and built upon the 1972 Agreement.

The 1978 GLWQA included a new purpose statement to reflect a broadened goal, "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem." The ecosystem approach concept introduced in the Revised 1978 Agreement recognized the interconnectedness of all components of the environment and the need for an integrated perspective in addressing human health and environmental quality issues.

The 1978 Agreement also called for the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes ecosystem by adopting a philosophy of "zero discharge" of inputs and established a list of toxic chemicals for priority action.

1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Amended by Protocol

The GLWQA was amended again by protocol in 1987. New concepts of ecosystem-based management were incorporated including the development and adoption of ecosystem objectives for the lakes. The Protocol also included two new annexes focusing on provisions to develop and implement Remedial Action Plans (RAP) to restore impaired water uses for significantly degrades areas around the Great Lakes (known as Areas of Concern) and Lakewide Management Plans (LaMP) to address whole lake contamination by persistent toxic substances. Several other new annexes were also introduced, further broadening the scope of the Agreement: non-point contaminant sources; contaminated sediment; airborne toxic substances; contaminated groundwater; and associated research and development.

Learn More About the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement:

  • A Guide to the GLWQA - This guide was designed to assist the public throughout the 2006 governmental review process.
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