1978 Water Quality Agreement Signed by U.S. and Canada

[EPA press release - November 22, 1978]

A new agreement was signed today between Canada and the United States calling for programs and measures to further abate pollution in the Great Lakes.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs Don Jamieson signed the pact in Ottawa which reaffirms and updates the two countries' commitments to enhance water quality in the Great Lakes which contain 97 percent of America's fresh water storage.

Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Barbara Blum, a co-signer of the agreement, praised the cooperative efforts of the International Joint Commission in bringing about this new agreement. "This cooperative effort reaffirms our determination to restore and enhance the quality of Great Lakes water," Blum said. "The initial agreement in 1972 resulted in considerable progress, and this new agreement will go even further in supporting the drinking water needs of more than 35 million people."

The 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement builds on six years of experience under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972. Since it came into effect, there has been a significant improvement in understanding of the technical and scientific aspect of water quality, the presence and effects of toxic substances in the Great Lakes System and the extent of non-point source pollution. Thus the 1978 Agreement contains the following significant revisions or improvements over the 1972 Agreement:

  • provision of revised and new water quality objectives, both general and specific

  • provisions to largely eliminate discharge of toxic substances into the Great Lakes and to establish warning systems which will point up those that may become evident

  • dates on which municipal (December 31, 1982) and industrial (December 31, 1983) pollution control programs are to be completed and operating are set

  • improved monitoring and surveillance requirements to enable assessment of the effectiveness of remedial programs

  • provisions for dealing with pollution from land use activities and for examining the problem of airborne pollutants

  • a definition of new, interim phosphorus loadings with provision for an eighteen-month review and new strategies for controlling phosphorus as necessary

  • provision for an annual public inventory of discharges and pollution control requirements.

The Agreement states the purpose of the two signatories to be a commitment to a maximum effort to obtain a better understanding of the basin ecosystem and to reduce or eliminate the discharge of pollutants in to the system, with a prohibition on the discharge of toxic pollutants. This purpose is to be met through programs which, as under the original Agreement, have general and specific objectives. General objectives are broad descriptions of desirable water quality conditions, while specific objectives are designations of maximum or minimum desired levels of a substance or effect, to protect the beneficial uses of the waters.

Among the general objectives are keeping the waters free from:

  • sewage discharges, oil and other debris;

  • materials which adversely affect color, odor, taste or other conditions; and

  • materials which produce toxic conditions or provide nutrients for the growth of algae which interfere with the beneficial uses of the Lakes.

The lengthy list of Specific Objectives, detailed in Annex 1 of the Agreement, provides that specified levels or concentrations of persistent or non-persistent chemical and physical substances not be exceeded to the injury of property and health. Based on work by experts in both countries under the auspices of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission, the specific objectives of the 1978 Agreement are far more comprehensive and stringent than those of the 1972 Agreement.

The Agreement outlines a number of programs which are necessary to meet the general and specific objectives. Among these are programs which call for:

  • the preparation of an inventory of pollution abatement requirements, expressed as effluent limitations

  • controls to be placed on the use of pest control products to limit their input into the Lakes; require control of pollution from animal husbandry operations and from the hauling and disposal of liquid and solid wastes. Other measures will be required in connection with land-use activities in an effort to reduce this significant contribution to Lakes' pollution

  • the establishment of measures to control pollution from shipping sources, including both oil and vessel waste discharges

  • the continuation of the joint pollution contingency plan for the Lakes

  • measures for control of pollution from dredging activities and the disposal of polluted dredge sediments

  • measures for the control of pollution from onshore and offshore facilities, such as materials transported within the Basin, and gas drilling operations

  • additional protection for pollution from hazardous polluting substances and toxic chemicals

  • the introduction of measures for the control of inputs of phosphorus and other nutrients to prevent harmful algal growth

  • a program aimed at identifying the contribution of airborne pollutants to the Lakes

  • the further implementation of a coordinated surveillance and monitoring program to determine the extent to which the General and Specific Objectives are being achieved.

The International Joint Commission will continue to play an important role under the 1978 Agreement. It will assist Governments in implementing the Agreement by tendering advice, collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data, and undertaking public information activities. In addition, the Commission will send a full report to Governments on the progress toward achievement of the General and Specific Objectives every other year. The 1978 Agreement also specifies more precisely the terms of reference of the joint institutions established to assist the Commission in performing functions related to the Agreement.