Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Upon first signing the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) in 1972, the United States and Canada pledged to clean up the Great Lakes. Additional measures were outlined in the revised 1978 agreement relating to “persistent toxic substances,” and in a 1987 protocol promoting, among other things, the lakes’ sustainable use.

As such, the GLWQA was something of a turning point. Since the arrival of the first settlers in the 1700s, the need for farmland and timber had led to environmental degradation associated with deforestation. By the late 1800s, municipalities and unregulated industries were using the lakes as dumping grounds for untreated wastes. Thereafter industrial pollutants and pesticides (such as DDT) added to water quality problems. Negotiations between the two countries aimed at updating the GLWQA concluded in September 2012 with the signing of a new protocol that includes updated provisions relating to chemicals, nutrients, ship pollution, and scientific research, as well as climate change, and invasive species.