Great Lakes Groups Call on Canadian and United States Federal Legislators to Ensure Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Will Protect Lakes

Public interest groups highlight responsibility of US and Canada as guardians of the Great Lakes; call for more substantial public involvement.

Feb 27 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 2012

Sixty-one public interest groups have sent a letter to Great Lakes Members of Congress in the United States and Great Lakes Members of Parliament and the Senate in Canada on the renegotiation of an agreement to protect and restore the lakes. These groups represent thousands of people in the US and Canada from around the Great Lakes Basin who rely on the Lakes for water, food and recreation.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) is a bi-national, non-binding framework to protect and restore the Great Lakes. In the letter, the groups provided a detailed discussion of citizen expectations and goals for the Agreement, and highlighted the importance of citizen participation as the negotiation draws to a close. Their elected representatives were urged to take an active role in ensuring that their governments have renegotiated a strong Agreement to protect the Great Lakes. The letter was sent on the heels of the announcement that the two countries are planning “to report to the public on the outcome of the negotiation sessions” including “a description of the conceptual consensus reached on what should be in an amended Agreement”. Even with these statements, signatories fear that this report will be no more specific nor substantial than previous communications from the governments, and will do little to address the concerns of citizens."This is only the third renewal of the Agreement in four decades, and thus a rare opportunity to ensure that the Agreement has the vision and broad support that will guide us through the coming decades," said John Jackson of Great Lakes United. "The Agreement will be a guide for policy and actions in the U.S. and Canada to protect and restore the Great Lakes over the next twenty years or more; it is essential that it address key issues of concern to stakeholders in the basin."

The U.S. and Canada, as the public trustees and guardians of this system, share particular responsibility for protecting it from a growing number of environmental stresses that threaten its vitality and resilience. The groups warn that unless "bold action" is taken, the Great Lakes continue to be at risk of irreparable ecological damage and decline.

Although stakeholder groups have been actively working for the past seven years to ensure a strong agreement, activists point out that citizen participation in the process has been largely perfunctory, with no opportunity for substantive dialog on the specifics of the Agreement. "This is in complete contrast to earlier renegotiation processes," noted Jackson, who was an active participant in the 1987 renegotiation.

"The governments of both countries have a trust obligation to be stewards of the Lakes. This trust necessarily includes meaningful input and participation by non-governmental organizations and citizens,” noted Lin Kaatz Chary of the Great Lakes Green Chemistry Network. “The Great Lakes hold nearly one-fifth of the fresh surface water on Earth, and the Great Lakes/ St Lawrence River is a freshwater ecosystem that is recognized globally as a unique living resource.”

“Canada and the U.S. are at an important crossroads in their approach to protect the Great Lakes. Without sufficient knowledge on the details of the new GLWQA, we don’t have a clear picture on how our governments will proceed with the cleanup and protection of the Great Lakes” continued Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association. “As stewards of the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to over 40 million in the US and Canada, only the highest level of commitment for the Great Lakes is expected from our governments.”

"The current process has not given us a basis to have any assurance that our goals will be met," added Chary. “We call on United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird to ensure that the goals articulated by citizens are incorporated into the Agreement and that citizens have an opportunity to see the current draft Agreement and provide further input before the Agreement is finalized."

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was originally signed in 1972 under the auspices of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the two countries. For more information about the Agreement, see: Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, US EPA - http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/glwqa/

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For more information contact:

Lin Kaatz
Chary Great Lakes Green Chemistry Network
219-938-0209
lchary@sbcglobal.net

John Jackson
Great Lakes United
519-591-7503
jjackson@glu.org

Tracey Easthope
Ecology Center
734-223-7603
tracey@ecocenter.org

Fe de Leon
Canadian Environmental Law Association
416-960-2284, x 223
deleonf@cela.ca

Download the letter to Great Lakes MPs and Great Lakes Senators (including Summary of NGO goals for a revived Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement)

Download the letter to members of the US Great Lakes Congressional Delegation