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Great Minds, Great Lakes


Social Studies

The Journey of the Great Lakes



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Who Governs the Great Lakes?

Because the United States and Canada share the Great Lakes as a border, many governments are involved with environmental problems in the Great Lakes Basin: on a federal level, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada: eight state governments (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin): and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec). Having both Canada and the United States involved presents the unique situation of two nations responsible for managing and protecting a natural resource.

To officially agree on how to protect the Great Lakes, the United States and Canada signed a treaty in 1909 called the Boundary Water Treaty. The treaty declared that neither Canada nor the United States has the right to pollute the resources of its neighbors. It also said that both countries have equal rights to the use of waterways that cross the international border of the Lakes. Despite the agreements made in the treaty, pollution problems began to mount, and by the early 1970s, the two countries had to reconsider the Boundary Water Treaty.

The two countries decided to make a more specific commitment to restoring and maintaining the environmental health of the Great Lakes Basin. The agreement, called the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, was signed in 1972 and created a bi-national commission that would be responsible for reducing pollution in the Great Lakes and developing specific plans for cleaning up many of the pollution problems in the Basin. The commission is referred to as the International Joint Commission.

Making progress on the problems that affect the Great Lakes is not easy. This is because the problems are not simple ones and because every proposal has ramifications that are both good and bad. For example, an environmental protection proposal that limits industrial growth may help prevent further pollution of the Great Lakes, but it may have negative effects on the economy and the availability of jobs.




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