Improving Water Resource Management on the Canada-U.S. Border

International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States Receives Award for Harmonizing Transboundary Water Data

OTTAWA, Esri Canada User Conference – October 24, 2012 – Much of the border Canada and the United States share is water. The Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater resource, and the St. Lawrence Seaway, as well as thousands of rivers and streams traverse this 8,000-kilometre boundary. Until recently, there had been no consistent data on these water bodies to help prevent and resolve transboundary water issues. To address this challenge, the International Joint Commission (IJC) of Canada and the U.S. led efforts in both countries to harmonize water data for the entire border using a common geographic information system (GIS) platform. For fostering this bi-national cooperation, Esri Canada today presented the IJC with an Award of Excellence in GIS.

“For the first time, we have seamless, consistent geographic data on our border waters,” says Alex Miller, president, Esri Canada. “This allows Canada and the U.S. to improve policy, research and programs for managing these waters and resolving issues including pollution control, invasive species management, conservation and sustainable development. Beyond harmonizing data, the IJC has successfully established an efficient framework for working together to protect shared waters affecting numerous industries and communities on both sides of the border.”

“GIS technology allowed us to remove the ‘data fault-line' representing the overlap in Canada and U.S. water data,” notes Michael Laitta, GIS coordinator and bi-national project manager, IJC. “Instead of looking at parts of the waterscape, we can now study the system as a whole. This shared geographic foundation allows national and local agencies in both countries to exchange analyses and jointly steward data that spans our shared border. It provides a means for effectively implementing bi-national water protection agreements such as the recently updated Great Lakes Water Quality Act.”
In 2008, the IJC created a task force with members from various agencies including Natural Resources Canada's Centre for Topographic Information in Sherbrooke, Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Science and Technology Branch in Winnipeg, the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Science Centers in Utah and Massachusetts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. The team collaborated with 15 U.S. states and 8 Canadian provinces to align datasets including Canada's National Hydrographic Network and Fundamental Drainage Areas with the U.S. National Hydrographic Dataset and the National Watershed Boundary Dataset.
Using Esri's ArcGIS technology, the national hydrographic datasets were compared along a 100-metre strip on each side of the border. Any water features that did not align were connected and re-digitized following agreed upon guidelines. The harmonized data was then sent back to the responsible agencies in each country for verification and inclusion in their national data structures. ArcGIS provided a common language and system to negotiate, coordinate and document data interpretations. It helped streamline the terminology used to describe water resources and standardize metrics for quantifying water resources.
“Creating uniform standards for managing water data allows for more accurate interpretation of the water flow and characteristics of shared hydrography between Canada and the U.S. It also eliminates duplication of efforts, reduces costs and paves the way for a wealth of other water-related data to be harmonized,” notes Laitta.
The public can now access transboundary water data representations in GeoBase, Canada's spatial data portal, and the U.S. National Map. The IJC has also recently synchronized Canada-U.S. wastewater treatment plant data in the newly harmonized Great Lakes Drainage Basin, as well as the watershed and shoreline data in this unique and critical system. Furthermore, the IJC is leveraging the harmonized data by providing the coordination required to enable Canadian and U.S. agencies to develop sustainable, bi-national water quality and quantity models.

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About the International Joint Commission of the U.S. and Canada
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 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty established the Commission, which has six members. Three are appointed by the President of the United States, with the advice and approval of the Senate, and three are appointed by the Governor in Council of Canada, on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Commission has set up more than 20 boards, made up of experts from the United States and Canada, to help it carry out its responsibilities. For more information, visit

About Esri Canada
Founded in 1984, Esri Canada provides enterprise geographic information system (GIS) solutions that empower businesses, governments and educational institutions to make timely, informed and mission-critical decisions by leveraging the power of geography.  The company distributes the world's leading GIS software from Esri, Telvent, Cityworks – Azteca Systems, Inc. and other technology partners.  Headquartered in Toronto, the company serves over 10,000 customers from 16 regional offices across Canada and has been named as one of the Top 250 Canadian IT Companies and Top 25 IT Professional Services Providers in Canada by the Branham Group, as well as one of Computer Dealer News' Top 100 IT Solution Providers in Canada.  Information about Esri Canada can be found at

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