International body seeks to develop water quality goals for border lakes and rivers

Lake of the Woods (Photo by Tony Webster)

A government organization that helps coordinate efforts to protect waters shared by the United States and Canada is asking for the public’s input on how it can set goals for clean water in the region.

The International Joint Commission’s (IJC) Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board is in the early stages of developing recommendations to help protect lakes and rivers on the border, and in waters that flow toward the border. The region includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, Voyageurs National Park, much of the Superior National Forest, and more. Challenges facing the waters include proposed copper-nickel mines, historic iron mines, climate change, invasive species, mercury, and excess nutrients that cause increased algae.

“The project team is setting up workshops and meetings to hear from those who work and live in this watershed about their expectations for water quality and aquatic ecosystem health in the basin,” the organization says. “It is important to try to develop a shared understanding of the meanings, expectations and potential metrics for water quality and aquatic ecosystem health to serve as a foundation for developing objectives and alerts.”

Map of the Rainy Lake Watershed, courtesy International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board

Two proposals are being developed. One is for water quality objectives, which apply only to waters actually shared on the international border. Objectives are “usually a water chemistry measurement identifying concentrations that are met to ensure that there is no harm to the environment.”

The other standard is for alerts, which can apply to all lakes in the watershed, and are levels of substances that can trigger action if they exceed guidelines.

The International Joint Commission was formed by the governments of the United States and Canada to ensure shared waters are not contaminated by either country. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Ontario Department of Natural Resources both participate in the group’s work.

More information

Get involved

Public Workshop
Tuesday, March 12; 4:30-6:30 pm – Rainy River Community College, International Falls, MN

Invited Expert Workshop
Tuesday, March 12; 12:00-4:00 pm – Rainy River Community College, International Falls, MN Open Webinar – date TBD (late March)

Stakeholder Workshop
July 2019 in Kenora, ON

Community Conversation
July 2019 in Kenora area

For more information, contact Kelli Saunders, Project Coordinator, at ksaunders@lowwsf.com or call 807-548-8002.

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