The International Joint Commission (IJC)

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The International Joint Commission (IJC) is an independent, binational organization created in 1911 as a result of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 between the United States and Canada to oversee the management of transboundary waters.

Organizational Purpose Described as:
– make decisions related to a resource or group of resources
– advisory committee
– formal commission
– other advisory structure

Project Dates:1911-

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According to the treaty, the IJC must approve all management projects which will affect the level or flow of waters across the boundary and can be called upon to investigate proposed water development projects and provide information on the current or possible consequences of management actions (IJC website). The IJC is empowered to review and report on planned projects, and make non-binding recommendations to both states on whether or not to accept a proposal. The IJC serves a number of capacities, including permitting (or forbidding) the implementation of projects altering shared water resources (Article IV of the BWT), arbitrating disagreements between the two states (Article IX and X), and investigating issues with uncertain consequences (Article X). The IJC may make final decisions on contested issues only with the consent of both countries. The International Joint Commission has no powers to make binding decisions or enforce decisions once they are made; all decisions and assessments are non-binding. An earlier draft of the BWT granted the IJC the powers to enforce its decisions, but this was opposed by the United States secretary of state and subsequently removed (Hall, 2008). It is suspected that the U.S. acted under the impression that giving the IJC enforcement authority would compromise its freedom to use transboundary waters[1]


The IJC consists of six commissioners, three from each country, which are appointed by and paid by that country. A secretary is elected from the commissioners of each country. Decisions are made by a vote, and a majority count has the power to made decisions on behalf of the commission. In cases where no majority can be reached, commissioners will issue separate reports to their respective countries.

Projects and accomplishments

Studies by the IJC led to the establishment of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (1972). The IJC helped form and now oversees at least 16 special boards that focus on particular issues pertaining to boundary waters. The IJC recently became involved in resolving the Devil’s Lake outlet conflict.


Allen Olson (2008) argues that the IJC needs to be more proactive with what authority it has.[2] While it cannot forcibly involve itself in a situation, it can suggest investigations on an informal basis and thus get itself involved in investigating and mediating situations in which its input would be important. If it does not, it will be disregarded by both governments when their personal interests are at stake and possible loopholes enable them to ignore the needs of the other country.

  1. ^ Whorley, D. 2008. The Devil’s Lake Outlet and Canada-U.S. Transboundary Water Relations; Or, How George C. Gibbons Got the Last Laugh. 31 Hamline L. Rev. 615. 20 pp.
  2. ^ Olson, A.I. 2008. Remarks of Allen I. Olson, Commissioner, International Joint Commission. Panel I: The Boundary Waters Treaty and Canada-U.S. Relations. Wayne Law Review 54, pp. 1461-1468

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Project RegionNorthern America +
Purposemake decisions related to a resource or group of resources +, advisory committee +, formal commission + and other advisory structure +