Predicting water quality across the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River

Above, Dr. Glenn Benoy, former Senior Water Quality and Ecosystem Advisor to the IJC’s Canadian Section. Courtesy photo

CORNWALL — Many of North America’s lakes and rivers, including the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, straddle major sections of the Canada-United States (US) border. In recognition of these shared natural resources, in 1909 Canada and United States signed the Boundary Waters Treaty creating the International Joint Commission (IJC). Here in Cornwall on Wednesday, April 3, at 7 p.m. at Schnitzels, the River Institute will play host to the Commission by welcoming Dr. Glenn Benoy, former Senior Water Quality and Ecosystem Advisor to the IJC’s Canadian Section. This talk is re-scheduled from February when Science and Nature on Tap was postponed due to weather. Dr. Benoy holds a PhD from the University of Guelph and was a postdoc at the University of Calgary and the National Hydrology Research Centre in Saskatoon. He is also a Fellow with the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI). As a subject matter expert on water quality, he advises both the IJC and the CRI on the science and management of internationally shared lakes and rivers as well as their respective watersheds. He was recently appointed as National Manager of Habitat and Arctic Science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

While the IJC may be known mainly for its connection to operations of the Moses-Saunders Dam at Cornwall, it is responsible for much more. In addition to their bi-national role in the management of water levels through control structures in the Great Lakes Basin, the IJC also plays a central role in the provision of advice and recommendations on water quality policy to the governments of Canada and the United States. While approximately 40 percent of our border with the U.S. is water, almost all of the remainder of it falls within a transboundary watershed. The dominant water quality issues facing many boundary waters are eutrophication (algae), aquatic invasive species, and the variation of natural flow systems. Dr. Benoy’s work focuses on integrated water resources management, development of water quality patterns or modelling, as well as the advancement of agricultural best management practices.

Glenn Benoy says, “Eutrophication comes about from excessive escalation of nutrients within water bodies and it is a serious issue in shared waters particularly across the Great Lakes. Due to excessive loading of nitrogen and phosphorus, many of these systems suffer from algal blooms and lower oxygen levels”. He adds, “We need to be able to understand and predict the changing aspects of water quality in these shared basins”. To that end, the IJC has launched a first-of-its-kind binational watershed modelling project by working in partnership with the US Geological Survey (USGS) and Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). Called SPARROW (or SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes) the USGS is using this model to communicate identified longstanding nutrient loads by connecting it to nutrient sources and land-to-water transfer processes. Data obtained from this model is being used in watershed management planning, to identify specific regions of high nutrient influences, to estimate changes in nutrient loading due to land use change and climate change, as well as to assist with the development of critical water quality objectives.

Dr. Benoy will speak about how this model came about as well as on the practical uses for such a publicly available tool in dealing with water quality issues in the Great Lakes. 

Science and Nature on Tap Sessions are free but seating is limited. For more information or to reserve your seat contact Karen Cooper at 613-936-6620 (229), e-mail, or visit For more details and information on Science and Nature on Tap as well as other River Institute programming please visit or follow the River Institute on Facebook and Twitter.

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