by Ralph Pentland
O n June 13, 2009, U.S.
Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and
Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon
met in Niagara Falls, Canada, and
announced plans to amend the
landmark 37-year-old Canada-U.S.
Great Lakes Water Quality Agree-
phosphate-detergent bans have
been as successful as similar-scale
efforts elsewhere in the world.
But today, the capacity of govern-
ments to enforce regulations that
meet the current challenges— and
their appetite to do so—is on the
decline. In both countries, there
is rising doubt about governments’
and personal-care products, some
of which may pose a risk to ﬁsh,
wildlife and people. Non-native
species are threatening to offset the
balance in biological systems and
water chemistry. Climate change
is contributing new challenges to
the sustainability and health of the
ment to modernize it to meet new willingness and ability to fulﬁ ll The impact has already been
challenges. their promises. tragic. The upheaval in biologi-
Residents in both countries wel- And with reason: progress on cal systems and water chemistry
comed the news—but with consid- newer commitments set forth in a caused by an onslaught of inva-
erably less enthusiasm than when 1987 protocol has been slow, with sive species has created a “biologi-
they greeted the signing of the only three areas removed from the cal desert”—an expanse of water
ﬁrst agreement by then-President list of “hot spots” over two decades. that has become uninhabitable for
Richard Nixon and Prime Minister The protocol called in fact for re- many native species—across por-
Pierre Trudeau. medial action plans for 43 areas tions of southern Lake Michigan.
Why the decline in conﬁdence? of concern (designated because Lake Erie has seen a series of bot-
Blame it, in part, on success. The they contained contaminated ulism outbreaks in ﬁsh and birds.
promises in the 1972 agreement sediments, inadequately treated Many local areas around the lakes
and subsequent amendments in wastewater, non-point source pol- are once again witnessing exten-
1978 were largely met. Concentra-