The U.S. and Canada share one of the longest international borders in the world. Throughout the majority of both nations’ history, relations have been peaceful, and sought to maintain good stewardship of resources shared along that border.

Forty years ago, when many environmental experts sounded the death knell for Lake Erie, Richard Nixon and Canadian leadership signed the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement. On Friday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent signed an updated version of the agreement, signaling renewed commitment to Great Lakes conservation.

According to an EPA statement, the revised agreement includes strengthened measures to anticipate and prevent ecological harm, and it will allow both countries to take action on threats to Great Lakes water quality. New provisions address aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation and the effects of climate change, and support continued work on existing threats to people’s health and the environment in the Great Lakes Basin, such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals, and discharges from vessels.

“The new plan requires progress reports every three years on the efforts, which can involve dozens of parties and agencies across all levels of government as well as the private sector. It also expands the commission’s advisory board to include representatives of traditional indigenous peoples and local governments,” reports the New York Times.

With warmer temperatures giving way to toxic algae blooms, an ongoing invasion by Asian carp, and constant threats from industrial polluters, there’s no denying the Great Lakes could use the extra help. Still, advocates of the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement say the amendments are merely lip service where direct action is needed.

“While there’s lots of very good language [and] new issues addressed, how they are going to be tackled is completely unknown,” said Gail Krantzberg, director of the Center for Engineering and Public Policy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “The actual procedures, programs, methods for implementing the agreement are really not defined.”

It seems that this yearning for clear, manageable conservation goals is something that permeates the governments of both nations. Transparency during the negotiation process was also lacking, according to environmental advocates. Although the agreements state that indigenous people will be included in decisions regarding the Great Lakes, critics say there are still groups excluded.

“More accountability would mean that the voices of industry, farmers, environmental groups and other communities would [also] be heard,” said John Jackson, interim executive director and program director for Great Lakes United, an association of Great Lakes advocates.

The entire text of the revised agreement can be found here:

Main photo credit: NASA/Flickr