IJC report addresses water quality issues

A boat passes by a fisherman sitting on the beams of an unfinished dock on the St. Lawrence River in Morristown in July 2015.

American and Canadian officials with the International Joint Commission called for their two countries to work together to protect the waters of the Great Lakes.

“Providing 100 percent clean drinking water to everyone, everywhere is the only acceptable situation,” said Commissioner Benoit Bouchard.

The concerns were outlined in the IJC’s First Triennial Assessment of Progress, designed to provide the two countries ideas to meet the standards of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

“These are rock-solid recommendations that we’d like to see governments act on,” said D. Lee Willbanks, executive director of Clayton-based Save the River. “They’re valid, they raise legit concerns and they take into account a tremendous amount of public input.”

Among the Lake Ontario concerns raised in the report were reducing nutrient runoffs, improving quality of communication regarding water quality conditions and halting the rise of phosphorus in the lake.

Advocates also discussed limiting invasive species like grass carp, which has been spotted in the lake and the St. Lawrence River.

“They’re such voracious eaters — they will take our world-class fishery and potentially decimate it,” Mr. Willbanks said.

Mr. Willbanks said the IJC’s use of drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters as its goal was encouraging.

“As a water keeper organization, that sums up what makes clean water,” he said. “To make that your defining focus is great.”

Mr. Willbanks said that the issues in other Great Lakes are important for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River.

“Whatever happens upstream tends to work their way downstream,” he said.

The report calls on the two governments to increase funding for infrastructure and provide support to communities to improve their capacity to respond to extreme storm events.

The IJC also said the water quality of western and central Lake Erie remains unacceptable and called on federal, state and provincial officials to develop detailed action plans with metrics that can be used to hold themselves accountable.

“Voluntary measures have failed to protect Lake Erie from extreme algal blooms,” said Lana Pollack, the IJC’s American co-chair. “Enforceable standards are essential if governments are to achieve their phosphorus reduction loading targets and the public is to regain access to a more swimmable and fishable lake.”

The IJC also called for more action to combat toxic chemical releases and increased public engagement.

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