The five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River into which they drain contain 95 per cent of the fresh water in North America

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US and Canadian Mayors demand
say in new Great Lakes Agreement

By Tony Favro, USA Editor

23 August 2009: In June 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon announced that the two countries would update the 37-year-old Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River into which they drain contain 95 per cent of the fresh water in North America.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is the primary means of addressing threats to water quality in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The Agreement was written in 1972 and last revised in 1987. Since then, new challenges to water quality have emerged such as invasive species and new industrial chemical pollutants; higher demands for Great Lakes’ water have arisen; and new technologies have been developed to meet the challenges.

“These magnificent lakes are now facing more complex threats than were ever considered 25 years ago,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller. “A new agreement must be forward-looking, results-oriented, and address new threats to the Lakes.” Chicago Mayor Richard Daley concurred. “This announcement [to update the Agreement] is good news for cities surrounding the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.”

Local voice
Mayor Miller and Mayor Daley are founding chairpersons of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition of 150 mayors and local officials from communities in the Great Lakes basin. The Cities Initiative has called for the new Water Quality Agreement to be in place by June 2010 and for local government to be included as full partners in the negotiation and implementation of the Agreement.

“Cities have led by example on protecting and preserving our natural resources and we look forward to continuing to be part of this important process,” said Mayor Daley.

“We are fully prepared and eager to partner [with the federal governments] to ensure the waters are protected and managed in a sustainable manner,” added Mayor Denis Lapointe of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec.

Local catalysts
“Local government continues to be a catalyst for change and action on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River,” asserts Mayor John Rowswell of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and the data support his comments.

In February 2008, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative issued a report showing that local governments in the US and Canada invested an estimated US$15 billion annually to protect and restore the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, with $12 billion for water quality management and $3 billion for ecosystem protection.

However, this level of spending does not meet current needs. A January 2008 report by the US Environmental Protection Agency documents an immediate $73 billion need for clean water infrastructure in the US Great Lakes alone, yet the US government spends less than $700 million annually.

“We are certainly doing our part to protect the Lakes,” said Supervisor (Mayor) Mary Ellen Heyman of Irondequoit, New York. “It’s time for the federal government to step up to the plate.”

Irondequoit (pop. 52,000) has about 10 miles of shoreline on Lake Ontario and the Irondequoit Bay of Lake Ontario. The community is illustrative of local commitment to the Great Lakes.

Over the past three years, Irondequoit – with a US$30 million annual budget -- invested over $8 million to modernize sewers and drainage areas to prevent storm water from polluting the Lake and Bay. Irondequoit is one of the first communities in New York State to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy and is recognized statewide as a leader in low-impact storm water management. The town is currently preparing a waterfront revitalization plan to provide long-term guidance for the use and protection of its coastline.

Yet, says Supervisor Heyman, this is not enough. “We have a $200 million proposal for a mixed-use development on Lake Ontario that is stalled because of environmental concerns,” says Heyman. “Increased federal leadership would be most welcome to deal with these issues.”

The updated agreement
No timetable has been announced to begin deliberations to update the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Affairs Minister Cannon have promised to consider input from the US states, Canadian provinces, First Nations, non-governmental organizations, the public, other stakeholders, and – music to their ears – mayors and city governments. Mayor Lynn Peterson of Thunder Bay, Ontario succinctly summarizes the determination of US and Canadian mayors to be players in the update process and their confidence in being able to make a major contribution: “Local government has proven its leadership.” 

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