How the Great Lakes are doing

Canadians and Americans share a priceless resource: the Great Lakes basin ecosystem, linked downstream with the St. Lawrence River. Spanning two provinces and eight states, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region is an important part of our physical and cultural heritage. We depend on our Great Lakes for drinking water, recreation, transportation, power and economic opportunities. Yet, the demands of a large population in this region have taken their toll over time, and the impacts of industrialization, climate change, invasive species and toxic contaminants, among other pressures, are evident in the environment.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), signed in 1972 and most recently revised in 2012, commits Canada and the United States to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and their many Great Lakes partners work together to evaluate the current state of the Great Lakes, to anticipate emerging threats, and to measure progress towards shared objectives established under the Agreement.

This process involves the development and assessment of comprehensive, science-based ecosystem indicators for issues such as contamination, native and invasive species, degradation and loss of habitat, and human health. It is challenging to simplify the complex nature and condition of the Great Lakes ecosystem; however, reporting on indicators is a way to take complex information and make it more understandable.

State of the Great Lakes reports

Under the GLWQA, Canada and the United States, together with their many partners, established a suite of 9 indicators of ecosystem health, supported by 45 sub-indicators, to assess the state of the Great Lakes. State of the Great Lakes assessments support the identification of current and emerging challenges to Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health, help Governments evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies in place to address challenges, and help inform and engage others.

The State of the Great Lakes Report summarizes the overall health of the Great Lakes, which are assessed as Fair and Unchanging. While progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes has been made, including the reduction of toxic chemicals, challenges remain with issues such as invasive species and nutrients.

Lakewide action and management plans

Under the GLWQA, Canada and the United States create binational Lakewide Action and Management Plans (LAMPs) for each of the Great Lakes and their connecting river systems (the United States develops the plan for Lake Michigan). These five-year plans act as blueprints for action to identify and prioritize restoration and protection activities for the Great Lakes.

Each LAMP is developed and implemented by a “Lake Partnership” consisting of federal, state, provincial, Tribal, First Nation, Métis, and local governmental agency partners. The document receives broad public input during the development process.

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