The Binational Commissions of the Great Lakes Region
The Great Lakes Commission is an interstate compact agency founded in state and federal law and comprised of governors’ appointees, state agency officials and legislators from each of the Great Lakes states. Although legally a United States institution, the provinces of Ontario and Québec have participated since the organization’s inception, a role which became more formal through a Declaration of Partnership signed in 1999.
The Great Lakes Commission was established by the Great Lakes Basin Compact in 1955 “to promote the orderly, integrated and comprehensive development, use, and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin.” Passage of P.L. 90-419 by the United States Congress in 1968 provided consent of the Great Lakes Basin Compact. Between 1955 and 1963 each of the eight Great Lakes states passed its own enabling legislation that determines its delegation makeup and participation in the Great Lakes Commission under the terms of the Great Lakes Basin Compact.
The Great Lakes Commission’s authority under the Compact includes providing advice and recommendations to governments at all levels on development, use, management and protection of the lakes. Services focus on communication and education, information integration and reporting, facilitation and consensus building, and policy coordination and advocacy. Priority program areas for 2013-2015 include: clean energy and climate; water dependent economy and infrastructure; invasive species; water resource management; water quality and ecosystem health; and habitat and coastal management.
The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) was established by the 1955 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries: 1) to formulate a coordinated fishery research program between the United States and Canada; 2) to make recommendations to governments; 3) to formulate and implement a program to control the invasive, noxious sea lamprey in the Great Lakes; and 4) to establish “working arrangements” among the fishery management agencies, including provincial, state, tribal and federal authorities.
The GLFC is made up of eight Commissioners (four appointed from the United States and four from Canada; the U.S. also appoints an alternate commissioner). GLFC work is supported by an institutional structure that includes the Board of Technical Experts and the Sea Lamprey Research Board to advise on science, the Sea Lamprey Control Board and committees of citizen advisors. To maintain working arrangements, the GLFC facilitates the implementation of “A Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries,” a multijurisdictional agreement among the basin’s fishery management agencies. Through the Joint Strategic Plan, the members work together to develop and implement shared fishery objectives and to harmonize their policies. The process occurs through several Joint Strategic Plan committees including a “lake committee” for each lake, technical committees, a basinwide Council of Lake Committees, the Law Enforcement Committee, and the Great Lakes Fish Health Committee.
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 established the International Joint Commission (IJC) to prevent and settle disputes over the boundary waters located along the 5,500-mile (8,900-km) border between the United States and Canada. The IJC also has authority to approve and manage structures that affect levels and flows in the boundary waters. The 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) established a separate Great Lakes Regional Office of the IJC to coordinate and oversee IJC’s responsibilities under the GLWQA. The IJC is governed by three members (commissioners) from each country appointed by the President (United States) and the Prime Minister (Canada). In the Great Lakes basin, three IJC boards of control oversee structures to ensure that water levels and flows comply with IJC orders of approval: 1) the Lake Superior Board of Control; 2) the International Niagara Board of Control; and 3) the International St. Lawrence River Board of Control.
As an independent, binational organization, the main role of the IJC with respect to the GLWQA is to provide advice to governments, assess progress and provide public outreach and education on Great Lakes water quality. Great Lakes advisory boards of the IJC include the Science Advisory Board, Water Quality Board, and the Health Professionals Advisory Board, each with representatives from both countries.
In addition to receiving advice from its Great Lakes Boards, the IJC is advancing three related priorities as part of its 2012-15 Triennial Cycle:
- Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority (LEEP) to Reduce Phosphorus and Algal Blooms
- Assessment of Progress toward Restoring the Great Lakes (Indicators)
- Strengthening the Capacity to Deliver Great Lakes Science and Information
Since 2014, staff from the three Commissions has met regularly to identify, discuss, coordinate and take action on issues of mutual interest, to the extent possible. The Three Commissions also hold regular calls with the U.S. and Canadian Co-Chairs of the Annex 2 (Lakewide Management) Subcommittee, who under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are responsible for the development of Lakewide Action and Management Plans (LAMPs) for each Great Lake.