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Plan aims to improve quality of watershed

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A report released recently by the International Joint Commission (IJC) proposes a plan to improve bi-national management of water quality in the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River basin by imposing a governance model called the International Watershed Initiative.

The new initiative’s board would be a combination of the IJC’s existing International Rainy River Water Pollution Board and the International Rainy Lake Board of Control.

The report, provided to the governments of Canada and the United States, indicates the new governance model “would enhance local participation and support mechanisms to address priority issues through co-operative research and decision-making.”

This could include bi-national studies on transboundary water quality and water level regulation of Lake of the Woods, and a Watershed Summit convened by the IJC.

The board of the International Watershed Initiative would have an expanded mandate to include reporting to governments on water quality in the boundary waters of the watershed.

The commission held six public hearings (in Fort Frances, Stratton, and Kenora, Ont. and International Falls, Cook, and Baudette, Mn.), which were attended by 300 individuals, many representing organizations, and also received 31 written submissions.

The report noted there was widespread support from the public, community organizations, and environmental non-government organizations for the recommendation to combine the two existing boards, as well as increasing the geographic mandate to encompass the entire watershed.

A few local citizens from both countries and industries, however, were concerned a merger would lead to increased regulatory requirements.

Others indicated they did not want another layer of bureaucracy to prevent them from efficiently using their natural resources.

But the report indicates the amalgamation would not result in any additional regulations for industry, but rather rationalize governance within the watershed.

The IJC recommends a Water Quality Plan of Study be developed to “identify what scientific work is needed in addressing the priority transboundary water issues, such as nutrient enrichment and harmful algal blooms; aquatic invasive species; climate change indicators and the development of adaptation measures; and contamination of ground and surface water from sulphides and heavy metals.”

It also recommended the development of a plan of study on Lake of the Woods water levels to better inform policy, enhance understanding of the impacts of post-glacial rebound, and to consider the anticipated effects of climate change.

In addition, the IJC suggests that governments partner with First Nations, Métis, and tribes in watershed governance issues and continue efforts to resolve land and flooding claims.

The IJC report is available at www.ijc.org

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