UW-Green Bay

Master of Science in Environmental Science & Policy

A Policy Tipping Point and The Meaning of Water in the Great Lakes Basin: Evolving Canada-United States Great Lakes Governance in an Era of Climate Change

Gerard McMullen

The premise of this study is that the greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes in the twenty-first century will come from climate change and increasing out-of-basin demands for water withdrawals. The question asked herein is whether the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is the proper policy regime for Great Lakes governance and protection in the emerging era of climate change and global water scarcity. Inauguration of the Compact raises the question of whether the "new" regional regime has in fact supplanted the nearly 100-year old binational regime created by Canada and the United States, the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and its implementing institution, the International Joint Commission (IJC), as the primary vehicle for Great Lakes governance in the twenty-first century. While evidence from latent content analysis of public documents is presented that suggests the binational framework has been eclipsed by the Compact, it is argued that the imperative of confronting the impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes will necessitate the resurfacing of a truly binational institution of Great Lakes governance. The primacy of the IJC, with existing legal authority to manage Great Lakes water levels, should reassert itself as lake levels decline with the predicted ravages of global warming.

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