Water Management

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system contains about one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. It plays a major role in the geography and economy of eight U.S. states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York) and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec).

Managing this huge reservoir is not easy when you have 10 guests from two different nations around the same table, especially when some guests might be hungrier than others. And Quebec finds itself at the head of the table.

The Boundary Waters Treaty was signed in 1909 to prevent and resolve any disputes related to the use of waters shared by Canada and the United Sates and to resolve other cross-border issues. The treaty established the International Joint Commission (IJC), whose mandate is to ensure the fair and just utilization of boundary waters, including the Great Lakes, between the two countries. The IJC held its first assembly in 1912 and has since resolved more than 100 issues.

The waters of the Great Lakes are used for many purposes. Communities and industries may get fresh water from them, or allow wastewater to drain into them. Farms may use them for irrigation. They are used to produce hydroelectric power generated by water flow and dams, such as the Moses-Saunders Power Dam between Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. Recreational boats travel through the inland waters. And, of course, the waters are of vital importance to the commercial shipping industry, whose vessels sail the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system. Maritime industry interests along the St. Lawrence work to ensure that upstream interests do not hold on to these waters for their own purposes.

The IJC agreement regarding water levels in the St. Lawrence guarantees that water in the river will always be kept at a natural level, as if there were no dams upstream. Should the St. Lawrence level be below its natural level, water will be released upstream, by opening dam gates.