POLLUTION OF BOUNDARY WATERS
The Report of the International Joint Commission Formed to Investigate This Matter— Elaborate Reports Issued, Prepared by Experts—The United States Suggested and the Canadian Government Concurred in Asking for Recommendations
UNDER the terms of Article IX of the Treaty of January 11th, 1909, the governments of the United States and Canada referred to the International Joint Commission, for investigation and report, the following questions:—
1.—To what extent and by what causes and in what localities have the boundary waters between the United States and Canada been polluted so as to be injurious to the public health and unfit for domestic or other uses?
2.— In what way or manner, whether by construction and operation of suitable drainage canals or plants at convenient points or otherwise, is it possible and advisable to remedy or prevent the pollution of these waters, and by what means or arrangement can the proper construction or operation of remedial or preventive works, or a system or method of rendering these waters sanitary and suitable for domestic and other uses, be best secured and maintained in order to insure the adequate protection and development of all interests involved on both sides of the boundary and to fulfil the obligations undertaken in Article IV of the Waterways Treaty of January 11th, 1909, between the United States and Great Britain, in which it is agreed that the waters therein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other?
This investigation, in which the Commission had the co-operation and support of the federal, state, and provincial boards of health on both sides of the boundary, involved extensive bacteriological examinations to enable the Commission to answer the first question in the reference.
The second question, as to remedies, involved an examination by sanitary engineers of the existing municipal sewage disposal and water-supply plants on both sides of the boundary, and the working out of plans designed to afford an effective remedy for the pollution found to exist.
The Commission published elaborate reports, prepared by its experts, on both the bacteriological and the engineering sides of the investigation, and also its own annual report to the two governments, containing a summary of the results of the investigation and the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations, copies of all of which are available on application to the commission.
As a result of these recommendations, the United States proposed that Canada should join in requesting the Commission to prepare and submit for the consideration of the governments such rules and regulations as might be necessary to regulate and prohibit pollution of boundary waters and waters crossing the boundary.
The following order-in-council embodies the concurrence of the Dominion Government in the proposed reference :—
“The Committee of the Privy Council have had before them a report, dated 15th February, 1919, from the Acting Secretary of State for External Affairs, submitting to Your Excellency the final report of the International Joint Commission in the matter of the reference by the United States and the Dominion of Canada relative to the pollution of boundary waters.
“The Minister, in so doing, takes occasion to refer to a despatch from His Majesty’s Charge d’Affaires at Washington to Your Excellency, enclosing copy of a note from the United States Secretary of State dealing with the condition of affairs revealed by this report, and especially with the recommendation of the Commissioners that, in order to remedy and prevent the pollution of boundary waters, and to render them sanitary and suitable for domestic purposes and other uses, and to secure adequate protection and development of all interests involved on both sides of the boundary, and to fulfil the obligations undertaken in Article IV of the treaty, it is advisable to confer upon the International Joint Commission ‘some additional jurisdiction to make rules and regulations, directions and orders, as in its judgment may be deemed necessary to regulate and prohibit the pollution of the boundary waters and waters crossing the boundary.’
“The Minister agrees with Mr. Lansing in the advisability—in order to an adequate consideration of the above recommendation—of requesting the Commission to prepare for submission to their respective governments drafts of the instruments best calculated, in the opinion of the Commissioners, to give effect to their recommendations, whether by convention or legislation, or by both methods.
“The Minister, therefore, recommends that His Majesty’s Charge d’Affaires be informed that the Canadian Government are ready to associate themselves with the United States Government for the above-mentioned purpose.
“The Committee concurring, recommend that Your Excellency may be pleased to forward a copy hereof to His Majesty’s Charge d’Affaires at Washington, for the information of the United States Government.”
The conclusions and recommendations in the Commission’s final report on pollution of boundary waters were as follows:
Conclusions and Recommendations
1. The Great Lakes beyond their shore waters and their polluted areas at the mouths of the rivers which flow into them are, except so far as they are affected by vessel pollution, in a state of almost absolute purity. With the exception of these pure areas, the entire stretch of boundary waters, including Rainy River, St. Mary’s River, St. Clair River, Detroit River, Niagara River, St. Lawrence River from Lake Ontario to Cornwall, and the St. John River from Grand Falls to Ednutndston, New Brunswick, is polluted to an extent which renders the water in its unpurified state unfit for drinking purposes. This pollution has its origin chiefly in the sewage and storm flows from the riparian cities and towns and the sewage from vessels. It is very intense along the shores of the Detroit and Niagara Rivers and in the contaminated areas in the lakes. Throughout the whole length of the boundary waters where sewage is discharged from the sewerage works of cities and towns the pollution is most concentrated in the short waters on the side of the boundary on which it originates. These shore waters, besides being in places unsightly, malodorous, and absolutely unfit for domestic purposes, are a source of serious danger to summer residents, bathers, and others who frequent the localities. So foul are they in many places that municipal ordinances have been passed prohibiting bathing in them.
2. In the Detroit and Niagara Rivers conditions exist which imperil the health and welfare of the citizens of both countries in direct contravention of the treaty. This is true, though in a less marked degree, of the Rainy and St. John Rivers.
3. In the St. Mary’s, St. Clair, and St. Lawrence Rivers pollution exists which is in substantial contravention of the spirit of the treaty, and unless these conditions are improved, and the rivers placed under the control of competent authority, the resulting injury will be much more pronounced as population increases.
4. Vessel pollution in certain parts of boundary waters exists to an extent which causes substantial injury to health and property. It is derived from two sources, sewage waste from vessels and “water ballast” which is taken in by lake vessels at their ports of departure and emptied into these waters at or near their ports of destination. Vessel pollution is distinctly traceable in boundary waters in lanes and channels which vessels traverse in navigating them, their waters being thereby rendered unfit for drinking purposes.
5. In some cases sawmill and other mill wastes, garbage, offal, carcases, and other refuse matters are discharged into boundary waters. This practice results generally in a contravention of the treaty.
6. It is feasible and practicable, without imposing an unreasonable burden upon the offending communities, to prevent or remedy pollution, both in the case of boundary waters and waters crossing the boundary.
(a) In the case of city sewage, this can best be accomplished by the installation of suitable collecting and treatment works, the latter having special reference to the removal of bacteria and matters in suspension.
(b) In the case of vessel sewage, a feasible and inexpensive remedy lies in the employment of recognized methods of disinfection before it is discharged. In the case of water ballast suitable rules and regulations should be prescribed with a view of protecting the water intakes.
(c) The discharge of garbage and sawmill waste into boundary waters should be prohibited, and industrial and other wastes, which are causing appreciable injury, should be discharged subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed.
7. In order to remedy and prevent the pollution of boundary waters and to render them sanitary and suitable for domestic purposes and other uses, and to secure adequate protection and development of all interests involved on both sides of the boundary, and to fulfil the obligations undertaken in Article IV of the treaty, it is advisable to confer upon the International Joint Commission ample jurisdiction to regulate and prohibit this pollution of boundary waters and waters crossing the boundary.