A Renewed Commitment to Action: The 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Through the 2012 Agreement, Canada and the United States have established a shared vision and common objectives and commitments to science, governance and action that will help to restore and protect Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health.   

Both countries have considered input from other governmental and non-governmental organizations and various stakeholders to create a forward-thinking agreement that commits the two countries to action on current challenges while also expanding the list of issues to be addressed. 

Canada and the United States have updated the Agreement's goals and committed to developing and reporting on environmental indicators that will allow Canadians to assess how the Great Lakes are responding in relation to the following:

  • Providing a source of safe, high-quality drinking water;
  • Allowing for unrestricted swimming and other recreational use;
  • Allowing for unrestricted human consumption of the fish and wildlife;
  • Supporting healthy and productive habitats to sustain our native species;
  • Being free from pollutants that could harm people, wildlife or organisms;
  • Being free from nutrients that promote unsightly algae or toxic blooms;
  • Being free from aquatic invasive species;
  • Being free from the harmful impacts of contaminated groundwater;
  • Being free from other substances, materials or conditions that may negatively affect the Great Lakes.

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. 

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