Great Lakes Connections

Water Quality Board Presenters

SERS brings together a diverse group of people focused on tackling the profound ecological and social issues confronting humanity. We’re interested in different kinds of problems, but we all seem to like rolling up our sleeves and getting involved. As a result, we often find ourselves working with or alongside the people experiencing the problems we study, or implementing solutions.

For most of the last three decades, I’ve worked on water issues across Canada and around the world. Paradoxically, until the last few years I spent more time on far away regions like the Mackenzie River basin in northern Canada than I did in my own backyard, in the Great Lakes Basin. That changed in 2014, when I accepted an appointment as the Canadian Co-Chair of the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board.

Working for the International Joint Commission (IJC) has been a fabulous way to help protect and restore the waters of the Great Lakes. The IJC’s Water Quality Board brings together 28 people from all walks of life who are dedicated to the lakes. We advise the Commission on its responsibilities under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States, conduct research on current and emerging challenges, and engage the wider basin community on water issues.

My involvement with the IJC builds on a long history of Great Lakes connections in SERS. Faculty and students from SERS and its predecessors have been actively engaged in research and activism in the Great Lakes Basin since the 1970s. For instance, Distinguished Professor Emeritus George Francis, one of the founding members of the forerunner of SERS, and still an active member of our community, worked closely with the IJC and was instrumental in developing and promoting ecosystem-based approaches to protecting and restoring the lakes.

One thing I didn’t expect when I joined the Water Quality Board was the number of other connections to SERS. Twice per year the co-Chairs are required to appear before the Commissioners. In the picture that headlines this story, taken at the recent semi-annual meeting of the IJC in Ottawa, three of the five people have a link to SERS! Here we’re just about to begin our presentation to the Commissioners. Joining the co-Chairs for this presentation are several members of the Board.

On the far left side in the picture is Gayle Wood, who received her BES from SERS’s forerunner the Department of Man-Environment Studies in 1976, and may have taken courses taught by George Francis; Gayle retired recently from a long career in public service, most recently serving as the Chief Administrative Officer for three of Ontario’s conservation authorities. Second from the right is John Jackson, a life-long environmental leader and activist in the basin; John’s connection to SERS is via ERS 317 Waste Management, a course he has taught for the last five years. And in the centre, looking sombre, is me – SERS faculty member since 2008. The other Board members in the picture are Dave Ullrich, the US Co-Chair of the Board (to my left), and Russ Powers, a former Member of Parliament and municipal councillor for Hamilton (to my right). With us that day, but not in the picture, are members Jane Elder (Executive Director of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters) and Sandra Cooper (Mayor, Town of Collingwood), and Board Secretary Antonette Arvai.

The members of the Water Quality Board are mostly volunteers, who contribute enormous amounts of time and energy to helping make the waters of the Great Lakes Basin swimmable, drinkable and fishable. Working with these people is a privilege, and an outstanding opportunity to deliver on SERS’s mission of helping to protect, restore, reform and transform social and ecological systems.