On 5 February, John Manley, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced the reintroduction of amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act (IBWTA), prohibiting the bulk removal of water from Canadian boundary waters, including the Great Lakes. The amendments were originally tabled in 1999 but did not make it through parliament before last autumn’s general election (see related story). A daily earlier across the border, governors from the eight Great Lakes States in the United States also announced a proposal to tighten restrictions on use of Great Lakes water.

Last year, the International Joint Commission (IJC), at the request of Canada and the United States, completed a study and released a report that concluded that the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes needed protection from the threats of bulk water removal for export. The US Army Corps of Engineers said on 6 February that the waters of Lake Superior had dropped two feet (36 centimetres) below the long-term average for February to their lowest level since 1926 due to the last three warm, dry winters.

The five lakes together contain almost 20% of global fresh water and are the source of water for more than 25 million Canadians and Americans.

“These amendments will protect the Great Lakes from bulk water removal under federal law,” said Manley. “We are taking a decisive step to ensure that this critical freshwater resource is protected for future generations.”

The prohibition on removals will apply principally to the Great Lakes and other boundary waters, such as the international sections of the St. Lawrence River and Lake of the Woods in Ontario and the St. Croix and Upper St. John rivers in New Brunswick. Separate from the prohibition, the amendments introduced today will also set in place a licensing regime for boundary waters projects such as dams, obstructions or other works.

“Prohibiting the bulk removal of this vital natural resource protects the ecosystems and communities that depend upon a sustainable supply of water,” commented Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson. In addition, the Minister says he has been working with the provinces and territories to ensure that all of Canada’s freshwater resources are protected with all provinces developing legislation or policies that accomplish this goal.

Canada’s border with the United States is formed, crossed or straddled by more than 300 lakes and rivers. The International Boundary Waters Treaty Act was passed by Parliament in 1911. It implements the 1909 Canada-US Boundary Waters Treaty, which establishes principles and procedures for preventing or settling disputes, particularly regarding the quantity and quality of boundary waters between Canada and the United States.

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