The Centennial of the Boundary Waters Treaty: A Century of United States-Canadian Transboundary Water Management
Noah D. Hall
Wayne State University Law School
February 14, 2009
Wayne Law Review, Vol. 54, p. 1417, 2008
Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 10-04
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 has now provided the foundation for transboundary United States-Canadian water management for a century. During the one hundred years that the Boundary Waters Treaty has been in place, both the law and the world in which the law operates have changed dramatically. Some of the most relevant and significant changes have been several fold increases in population and thousand fold increases in gross domestic product in North America with correlating increased environmental impacts, the growth of international law and governance institutions, the emergence of modern environmentalism and the resulting creation of domestic and international environmental law, and most recently globalization and new economic trade laws. Despite all of this, the Boundary Waters Treaty has remained totally unchanged, never altered or amended in any way. Yet it continues to be as important and relevant as it was in 1909, and perhaps more so.
In establishing the principles of mutual obligation to protect shared natural resources, institutional governance independent from national self-interest, and dispute resolution through investigation and information exchange, the Boundary Waters Treaty was well ahead of its time and became a model for transboundary resource management. But while the Boundary Waters Treaty and its International Joint Commission were setting the bar in 1909, they may be behind the curve in 2009. Problems of freshwater scarcity, climate change, and ecosystem degradation were not anticipated a hundred years ago, nor were the public's expectations and demands for citizen participation and environmental protection. Like any milestone, the centennial of the Boundary Waters Treaty is a good occasion to acknowledge everything that the treaty has done to protect North America's freshwater and provide a model for transboundary resource management. At the same time, the current challenges demand more than a historical celebration, but also a critical look at how the Boundary Waters Treaty and International Joint Commission must evolve to meet the needs of the next century.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: Boundary Waters Treaty, transboundary pollution, Great Lakes, Trail Smelter, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
JEL Classification: K32, K33Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 20, 2009 ; Last revised: May 24, 2010
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