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2006 Michigan State Law Review 1299 (2006)


For scholars of international law and international dispute resolution, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and Agreement may seem a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they promise environmental cooperation and management of the Great Lakes at an unprecedented scale. The agreements have been heralded as a tremendous advancement in state-provincial relations. On the other hand, international scholars should be nervous for what the agreements signify for international law and dispute resolution. The Compact and Agreement are remarkable for replacing an already functioning regulatory regime: the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, administered by the International Joint Commission.

This Article does not criticize the agreements, but it does lament the reluctance of the two countries to more readily embrace the International Joint Commission, and the powers granted to it under the Boundary Waters Treaty. The Compact and Agreement move transboundary environmental management and dispute resolution from the international to the subnational level. By doing so, they likely will further curtail the two countries' use of the IJC. At the very least, the agreements reflect a missed opportunity to reinvigorate, rather than undermine, the IJC. If the IJC has been only marginally effective recently, its shortcomings are a result of U.S. and Canadian national policy. The federal governments have been reluctant to embrace the IJC as an effective bilateral institution. It did not have to be this way. The result, this Article concludes, is unfortunate.