Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Rights and obligations of Canada and the United States under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement)

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement expresses the commitment of the United States and Canada to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.  The agreement was signed in 1972 and later renewed in 1978 and aims to abate pollution in the Great Lakes.  The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement requires the United States and Canada to commit maximum efforts to reduce or eliminate the discharge of pollutants and to keep the waters free from:

-sewage discharges, oil and other debris;
-materials which adversely affect color, odor, taste or other conditions; and
-materials which produce toxic conditions or provide nutrients for the growth of algae which interfere with the beneficial uses of the Lakes.

An International Joint Commission was set up in order to implement the provisions of the agreement and to put a check on its two signatories.  This International Joint Commission of the Untied States and Canada assists the Untied States and Canadian governments in implementing the agreement by tendering advice, collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data, and undertaking public information activities.

Pursuant to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the United States and Canada enjoy the following rights:

-all navigable boundary waters shall forever continue free and open for the purposes of commerce to the inhabitants and to the ships, vessels, and boats of both countries equally;
-both countries reserves to themselves the exclusive jurisdiction and control over the use and diversion of all waters on its own side of the line;
-both countries shall have the right to carry on governmental works in boundary waters for the deepening of channels, the construction of breakwaters, the improvement of harbors, and other governmental works for the benefit of commerce and navigation, provided that such works are wholly on its own side of the line and do not materially affect the level or flow of the boundary waters on the other side, and also do not interfere with the ordinary use of such waters for domestic and sanitary purposes; and
-both countries shall have on its own side of the boundary equal and similar rights in the use of its boundary waters, which can be used for domestic and sanitary purposes, navigation, including the service of canals for the purposes of navigation and for power and irrigation purposes.

In order to achieve the purpose of the agreement, the United States and Canada have agreed to make a maximum effort to develop programs, practices and technologies necessary for a better understanding of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem and to eliminate or reduce to the maximum extent practicable the discharge of pollutants into the Great Lakes System.

Pursuant to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the United States and Canada have an obligation to:

-prohibit the discharge of toxic substances in toxic amounts;
-provide financial assistance to construct publicly owned waste treatment works;
-coordinate planning processes and to develop and implement best management practices to ensure adequate control of all sources of pollutants;
-keep the water free from substances that directly or indirectly enter it as a result of human activity and that will settle to form putrescent or otherwise objectionable sludge deposits, or that will adversely affect aquatic life or waterfowl;
-keep the water free from floating materials such as debris, oil, scum, and other immiscible substances resulting from human activities;
-keep the water free from materials and heat that directly or indirectly enter the water as a result of human activity, that will produce color, odor, taste, or other conditions in such a degree that will make the water unsuitable for beneficial use, toxic or harmful to human, animal, or aquatic life;
-keep the water free from nutrients directly or indirectly entering the waters as a result of human activity in amounts that create growths of aquatic life that interfere with beneficial uses;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from municipal sources;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from industrial sources;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from agriculture, forestry, and other land use activities;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from shipping activities;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from dredging activities;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from onshore and offshore facilities;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from polluting substances;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from toxic substances;
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from contaminated sediments; and
-prevent all forms of water pollution that arise from contaminated groundwater and subsurface sources.

Article XII of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement states that all rights and obligations of the United States and Canada as set forth in the “Boundary Waters Treaty” shall continue to be in force and will not be disturbed by the Great Lakes Act.  By virtue of the Boundary Waters Treaty, the two countries are not permitted to construct or maintain on their respective sides of the boundary any remedial or protective works or any dams or other obstructions that would result in lowering or raising the natural level of water in the rivers flowing across the boundary, with out the approved by the International Joint Commission.


Inside Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Rights and obligations of Canada and the United States under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement)