The governments of Canada and the U.S. are making "considerable progress" in cleaning up the Great Lakes but should set time-specific targets for fixing wastewater and drinking water systems, reducing agricultural and urban runoff and eliminating toxic pollutant releases into the lakes.
That was the assessment Tuesday by the International Joint Commission, the quasi-government, cross-border group charged with overseeing U.S.-Canada border water disputes and with monitoring the health of the Great Lakes.
The IJC report found notable gaps in how the two countries are achieving the goals of making the lakes safe for both swimming and drinking, and urged the governments to set deadlines to stop the discharge of untreated sewage into the lakes.
"Our municipalities must not be permitted to dump sewage into our drinking water and we call for a zero discharge objective, which will bring to an end the all-too-frequent beach closings," Gordon Walker, the IJC's Canadian co-chairperson, said in releasing the report.
The report said additional, mandatory restrictions on phosphorus runoff are needed to protect Lake Erie where water quality "remains unacceptable" and that voluntary efforts are not working.
"Actions must include enforceable standards for applying agricultural fertilizer and animal waste, better linkages between agricultural subsidies and conservation practices, and designation by Ohio of the western Lake Erie basin as impaired under the U.S. Clean Water Act," the report found.
The IJC report also found that progress to address toxic chemical releases under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed between the two nations has been "disappointingly slow." In the first three years only eight chemicals of mutual concern have been identified and no binational management strategies for these chemicals have been completed.
"Manufacturers need to take more responsibility for ensuring that their products do not release chemicals of mutual concern, particularly at the end of a product's life cycle, rather than leaving local governments and others to cope with the issue," said Commissioner Rich Moy.
The IJC has no legislative or legal authority to take action but encourages citizens to advocate with their governments to solve the issues still facing the lakes.
"It's the public and their elected officials" who need to take action, said Lana Pollack, U.S. co-chairperson of the IJC.