The Great Lakes before the 1972 Water Quality Agreement

Lake Okonoka, on Belle Isle in the Detroit River, was cut off from the river system in the 1950s. A project, completed in 2020, restored that connection. Credit: Friends of the Detroit River/EPA

Read the full story at Great Lakes Connection.

Over the past two centuries, western settlement and the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the water quality of the Great Lakes. New economic activities and cultural centers were spawned, while the lakes saw new (and often unwanted) species and pollution from industry, agriculture and cities.

The 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement provided a path forward for Canada and the United States to jointly address these issues. The two nations have made much progress in the years since. April 15 marked the 50th anniversary of the Agreement’s signing.

But the Agreement was not the start of efforts to restore the lakes. Since its inception in 1909, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has been involved in Great Lakes water quality issues. Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty states that all transboundary waters “shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.” Within that scope (more limited than the Agreement as a whole), governments tasked the IJC  several times prior to the Agreement to assess the Great Lakes and make recommendations.

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