At least 40 environmental groups have petitioned the International Joint Commission (IJC) to evaluate the water-related impacts from sulfide mining exploration and development within the Rainy River and Lake Superior Basins. In their petition, the groups request that the IJC make recommendations to assist governmental bodies in the U.S. and Canada in ensuring Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 is honored.

The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 provides the principles and mechanisms to resolve and prevent disputes, particularly those concerning water quantity and quality, along the boundary between Canada and the United States. Article IV of the Treaty states, "It is further agreed that the waters herein 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."

Sulfide mining is the mining of metals, such as copper, lead, nickel, gold and zinc, when these metals are embedded in a sulfide ore body. It may also be known in some contexts as "non-ferrous" or "hardrock" mining. In recent years, the lands surrounding Lake Superior and within the Rainy River Watershed in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario have experienced increasing sulfide mineral exploration and development. This form of mining has a history of severe and long-lasting water pollution associated with it in the United States and Canada as well as other locations around the world.

According to petitioners, "… The expansion of sulfide mining across the region, the pollution history of this industry, and the lack of a strong regulatory framework, highlight the pressing need for an assessment of these activities' impacts on the region's water resources. We request that the Commission proceed with this analysis and recommendation development as expeditiously as practical."

Canada and the United States created the International Joint Commission because they recognized that each country is affected by the other's actions in lake and river systems along the border. The two countries cooperate to manage these waters wisely and to protect them for the benefit of today's citizens and future generations.

The IJC is guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty, signed by Canada and the United States in 1909. The treaty provides general principles, rather than detailed prescriptions, for preventing and resolving disputes over waters shared between the two countries and for settling other transboundary issues. The specific application of these principles is decided on a case-by-case basis.

The IJC has two main responsibilities: regulating shared water uses and investigating transboundary issues and recommending solutions. The IJC's recommendations and decisions take into account the needs of a wide range of water uses, including drinking water, commercial shipping, hydroelectric power generation, agriculture, industry, fishing, recreational boating and shoreline property.

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