The article reports the findings of a study of the 43 institutional arrangements in the most severely polluted bays, harbours, river mouths and connecting channels in the Great Lakes of North America. These arrangements were designed by the governments of Canada and the United States and their respective provinces and states, in order to formulate and implement Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) to restore impaired beneficial uses. The RAPs were conceived, adopted and monitored by the International Joint Commission. The theory of common property resources is used to develop a conceptual framework to assess the effectiveness of the RAPs. Success at the planning stages is associated with a representative and inclusive process of ''stakeholder'' agenda setting, and success at an implementation stage with a system of pooled interdependencies among implementing organizations. There are, however, competing incentives for the bureaucratic organizations that design RAPs, and evidence suggests that these can be more powerful than the RAP programme itself. The success of the RAPs is thus mixed.