Canada-US Great Lakes water quality agreement

A satellite image shows the Great Lakes from space. A green Earth, with white clouds bordering the top and bottom of the picture. Credit: © NASA and GeoEye.

A satellite image shows the Great Lakes from space. A green Earth, with white clouds bordering the top and bottom of the picture. Credit: © NASA and GeoEye.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) is an agreement between Canada and the United States, first signed in 1972. It contributes to the quality of life of millions of Canadians by identifying shared priorities and coordinating actions to restore and protect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes.

In amending the agreement in 2012, the Governments of Canada and the United States have committed to a shared vision of a healthy and prosperous Great Lakes region in which the waters of the Great Lakes, through their sound management, use, and enjoyment, provide benefits to present and future generations. To this end, Canada and the United States recognize the importance of taking action, resolving existing environmental issues and anticipating and preventing future problems. 

Through the GLWQA, Canada and the United States, in consultation and cooperation with State and provincial governments, Tribal governments, First Nations and Métis, Municipal governments, watershed management agencies, and other local public agencies will develop programs, technologies and other measures necessary to better understand the Great Lakes ecosystem, and to restore and protect water quality and ecosystem health.   

To view specific commitments, objectives and actions to address environmental issues affecting the Lakes, click on the Annex links below:

What’s New in the 2012 Agreement?

The 2012 Agreement is:

Comprehensive: NEW annexes to address priority challenges

While upholding and modernizing commitments made in the past, the 2012 Agreement commits Canada and the United States to tackling other priority issues facing the Great Lakes. The Agreement has expanded the range of environmental issues to be addressed to include:

  • Aquatic Invasive Species: a new annex that outlines commitments to preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species;
  • Habitat and Species: a new annex that outlines commitments to preventing the further loss of habitat and species, and to providing valuable ecosystem services;
  • Climate Change Impacts: a new annex that outlines commitments to considering climate change impacts in order to enhance the long-term effectiveness of Great Lakes management strategies.

Action-oriented: Establishing Clear Commitments

The 2012 Agreement commits the parties to short-term and long-term actions, including:

  • Developing a nearshore assessment and management framework within three years;
  • Developing achievable, science-based phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie within three years in order to take action in combating the algae issue;
  • Within five years, Canada and the United States will develop binational phosphorus-reduction strategies for Lake Erie and detailed domestic action plans to meet objectives for phosphorus concentrations, meet loading targets and divide the phosphorous loads between the countries;
  • Developing and implementing an early detection and rapid response system, within two years, in order to identify quickly and take action on new threats of invasive species;
  • Developing, within two years, lake-wide habitat and species protection and restoration conservation strategies for each of the Great Lakes;
  • Developing, within two years, a baseline report on all relevant and available groundwater science in recognition of the important role that groundwater plays in overall water quality;
  • Reporting on progress through a comprehensive Progress Report of the Parties every three years;
  • Convening a Great Lakes Summit every three years, to discuss and receive public input on trends in environmental quality and progress in implementing the 2012 Agreement.

Effective: enhancing transparency and accountability

The 2012 Agreement outlines measures for stronger transparency and accountability, by:

  • Increasing public and stakeholder engagement;
  • Establishing a Great Lakes Public Forum to present, discuss and receive public input on trends in environmental quality, progress in implementing the 2012 Agreement, and future priorities;
  • Creating the Canada-United States Great Lakes Executive Committee with participation from federal, state, tribal, provincial and municipal governments, First Nations, Métis, watershed management agencies, and other local public agencies, in order to coordinate action and to advise the Parties on implementation of the Agreement. 

Modernized: reflect current knowledge and understanding

Approaches to environmental management and our understanding of the ecosystem have evolved since the Agreement was last amended in 1987. The 2012 Agreement reflects these advances by including a new focus on nearshore water quality and adaptive management approaches.

Forward-thinking: a focus on preventing new problems

With the 2012 Agreement, Canada and the United States have devised a progressive and forward-thinking plan of action. The focus is on taking necessary actions to resolve problems that already exist, and anticipating and preventing new environmental problems.

Related Links

  • Binational.net
    Binational.net is a collaboration between the USEPA and ECCC, to provide a single window for information on joint Great Lakes programs.
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