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Great Lakes need more work, IJC report says

The sun rises behind a bank of clouds over Lake Superior at Glensheen in Duluth on Oct. 8, 2016. (file / News Tribune)

The joint Canadian-U.S. commission that oversees border water disputes and Great Lakes environmental health says the lakes are doing better but still need more work from both governments.

That's the latest assessment of the International Joint Commission's Great Lakes progress report issued every three years.

The report praised the governments for their work so far to reduce pollution and other environmental impacts but said big problems remain. Lake Superior is generally in excellent environmental health, the report notes, and the U.S. effort to pump money into problems at so-called areas of concern — such as the Twin Ports harbor — has helped reduce harmful environmental impacts.

But the report also said "water quality in western and central Lake Erie is unacceptable." The report said voluntary efforts to reduce nutrient runoff into the lake isn't enough and "mandatory controls are essential to ensure success."

The report listed eight chemicals of mutual concern for the nations. Several others still need to be added and deadlines to develop binational control strategies to control them have long since passed. "Progress to reduce legacy contaminants such as PCBs and dioxins is encouraging, but emerging contaminants such as PBDEs are equally toxic and long-lasting, and thus require immediate attention," the report notes.

The report noted that joint ballast water controls on ships — namely exchanging ballast water at sea before entering the lakes — have prevented the introduction of new aquatic invasive species for the past several years. But the IJC says more needs to be done to prevent the spread of invasives within the Great Lakes.

The report now goes out for public comments for 90 days. While the governments of both countries generally accept the report's findings, they are under now obligation to do anything.

"Now that the IJC has released a draft assessment of progress report, the Commission is eager to hear from Great Lakes residents," said U.S. IJC Commissioner Rich Mo in a statement.

Comments are welcome until April 15 to ParticipateIJC@ottawa.ijc.org or at participateijc.org.

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