International Joint Commission (IJC)

Canada and the United States share significant quantities of water between their borders. Many rivers lie along or flow back and forth across the border such as the Milk River that rises in Montana, crosses the international border into Alberta, and then flows back into Montana. In fact, it is estimated that more than half of the 8,840 kilometer Canada-US border passes through water. Sharing and managing this amount of water between any two countries is indeed a daunting task.

During the late 1800s in Alberta, settlers pushed for irrigation projects to develop agricultural activity in the Province. This required withdrawing significant quantities of water from the shared rivers between Canada and the US. Farmers across the Alberta border in Montana were also undergoing similar projects using the same waters. The tension over water resources was a constant irritant between Canada and the US throughout the late 1890s and early 1900s. Eventually, both parties agreed to meet at the bargaining table.

In 1909, Canada and the US signed the Boundary Waters Treaty, one of the most significant water agreements in North America. This treaty is an example of how water allocation agreements can be executed effectively and peacefully between neighboring nations.

The 1909 Treaty gave birth to the International Joint Commission (IJC), a binational body that is responsible for managing the shared water resources between Canada and the US.

Water is used in numerous applications such as irrigation, hydroelectric power generation, drinking water, fishing and recreational activities. In addition, natural watercourses need to be protected to preserve the integrity of aquatic habitats. The IJC plays a managing role to ensure that water resources are used equitably and sustainably.

The IJC conducts significant management work on the Great Lakes waters to help achieve the cleanup targets that were established in 1972. In June 2009, 100 years after the Treaty was signed, Canada and the US agreed to update the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to address emerging challenges to water resources, particularly climate change which is considered one of the most urgent problems facing the global environment.

The IJC has six members, three appointed by the Governor in Council of Canada and three by the President of the United States. The IJC members are supposed to act impartially and focus on developing effective solutions to shared water resources. The IJC is normally commissioned by the Governments of Canada and the US to investigate water pollution and water resources management along the Canada-US border.

Managing the shared water resources between the two borders requires balancing many competing interests.

(The International Joint Commission (IJC) was established in the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty between Canada and the US to manage shared water resources between the two countries.)