A Survey of Current Great Lakes Research


by David J. Morreale


Master of Engineering Report

Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Great Lakes Program

University at Buffalo

July, 2002


Table of Contents




            Description of Great Lakes and location

Overview and history of the Great Lakes

            Description of the Great Lakes research survey

Current interests around the Great Lakes

            Toxic chemical loading

            Water levels

            Water diversion

            Sediment contamination and transport

            Biological and ecological issues

            Fish health and fisheries

            Urban sprawl and recreation

Information on what is currently being done

            Toxic chemical loading

            Water levels

            Water diversion

            Sediment contamination and transport

            Biological and ecological issues

            Fish health and fisheries

            Urban sprawl and recreation

What needs to be done in the future

            Toxic chemical loading

            Water levels

            Water diversion

            Sediment contamination and transport

            Biological and ecological issues

            Fish health and fisheries

            Urban sprawl and recreation

Develop a system on how to gather the information and where to keep it

            Database of information


Appendix – web sites for further information





Table 1 – 33 Current Indicators

Table 2 – Select exotic, non-native species

Table 3 – Major Contaminants affecting the Great Lakes ecosystem

Table 4 – Level I Substances

Table 5 – Level II Substances




Figure 1 – The Great Lakes Region

Figure 2 – The Great Lakes

Figure 3 – Areas of Concern around the Great Lake Basin

Figure 4 – Great Lake water level changes in the past few years

Figure 5 – Sediment Contamination Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes Basin

Figure 6 – Number of Fish Advisories for the Great Lakes States (1998)

Figure 7 – Recent Great Lake water level changes

Figure 8 – Great Lakes basin sediment remediation




Environmental and ecological problems in the Great Lakes Basin are not only a regional problem, but a national and international one as well.  The governments of both the United States and Canada have recognized that there is a price to be paid for what has been placed in, and demanded of, the lakes.  The Great Lakes Basin is home to more than one-tenth the population of the United States and one-quarter the population of Canada, for a total combined population of over thirty million people.  No region in all of North America has served humans better.  But, for almost a century, humans have poured sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, and chemical wastes into the lake waters.  In addition, humans have reduced many fish populations, altered and disturbed the natural ecosystems and wetlands, and introduced exotic, non-native species into the basin. (Skinner, 2002; Cobb, 1987)


As trustees of the Basin's natural resources, the Great Lakes States and Provinces have a shared duty to protect, conserve, and manage the renewable but finite waters of the Great Lakes Basin for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of all their citizens, including generations yet to come.  While many of today's environmental issues are complex (i.e. the impact of persistent toxic substances on fish and human health, water level fluctuations, water diversion and usage, sediment contamination and transport, invasions of non-native species, fish health, climate and air impacts, and shoreline and watershed development), the most effective means of protecting, conserving, and managing the water resources of the Great Lakes is through the joint pursuit of unified and cooperative principles, policies, and programs mutually agreed to, enacted upon, and adhered to by each and every Great Lakes State and Province. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Flint, 1989; Skinner, 2002)


This survey project presents and discusses the major current interests and areas of research going on around the Great Lakes.  The major topics include toxic chemicals, sediment contamination and transport, water levels, water diversion, invasive and exotic species, fish health, and urban sprawl and recreation.  For each of these topics, some background information is presented along with a discussion of what has been done.  Then, the research and studies that are presently being conducted are described and discussed.  Lastly, the direction of future research and what needs to be done is presented, along with some established target completion dates.


With the large number of researchers and agencies collecting a vast quantity of data and information, it is easy for research efforts and data to overlap and/or be duplicated.  Therefore, associated with the research survey, an analysis of how to store, access, manage, and share the data and information collected is presented. A networked resource system will play a key role in facilitating the sharing of information and data and inhibit unnecessary overlapping of tests and research.

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The Great Lakes are constantly changing as a result of variations in the physical, chemical, biological, and human activity processes.  The investigation for this project is a survey of the Great Lakes current research.  The focus of the survey is on the research and studies currently being conducted in the Great Lakes, along with the current areas of interest associated with these studies.  As part of this project, currently available data from various types of research and modeling will be presented along with suggested future research.  A particular focus of interest is placed on toxic loading, invasive species, and water level and diversion information.

Description of the Great Lakes and Location

The Great Lakes are very important to everyone in the basin area.  The Great Lakes Basin is home to more than one-tenth the population of the United States and over one-quarter the population of Canada, for a total combined population of over thirty million people.  In addition to their beauty, the lakes not only provide water for consumption but also serve for transportation, recreation, power generation, and many other uses.  The Great Lakes Basin includes approximately 300,000 square miles and covers parts of two countries. Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario, along with the connecting rivers and channels, compose the Great Lakes Basin system, which is located along the eastern international boundary between Canada and the United States.  The international boundary between Canada and the United States runs right down the middle of the Great Lakes, with the exception of Lake Michigan, which lies entirely within the Unites States.  As can be seen in Figure 1, the Great Lakes Basin includes portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York; as well as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Sellinger, 2001; Skinner, 2002)



Source: GLIN website

Figure 1 – The Great Lakes region (back to top)


The Great Lakes contain almost 95 percent of the surface water in the United States and 20 percent of the earth’s surface fresh water.  The Great Lakes contain approximately 6x1015 (six quadrillion) gallons of water.  For contrast, spread evenly across the contiguous 48 states, the water from the lakes would form a column almost ten feet deep.  In general, the outflow from the Great Lakes is small in comparison to the large total volume of water.  Amazingly, less than one percent of the total volume of water is discharged annually into the Atlantic Ocean. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002; SOGL, 2001; Kurth, 2002a).


Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in North America, forms the headwaters for the majestic Great Lakes waterway system.  The water flows out the lake's southeastern tip down the St. Marys River, a 60-mile channel that drops more than 20 feet in water elevation from Lake Superior to Lake Huron.  Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, which actually are two halves of one lake, are essentially at the same water elevation and are interconnected by the deep Straits of Mackinac.  Water flows southward out the southern tip of Lake Huron down the St. Clair River, through Lake St. Clair and down the Detroit River to Lake Erie.  The rivers form a 90-mile channel that flows, dropping less than ten feet, from Lake Huron to Lake Erie.  Leaving Lake Erie, the water flows north via the Niagara River, a 37-mile channel that connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  Near the end of the river is the mighty Niagara Falls – an over 200 foot drop – that accounts for the majority of the 325 foot total drop in elevation between the two lakes.  From Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence Seaway and St. Lawrence River flow approximately 590 miles northeasterly, dropping nearly 250 feet in elevation, to the salty Atlantic Ocean.  In total, water travels over 2,300 miles from the west point of Lake Superior to the end of the St. Lawrence.  The Great Lakes and their connecting channels are shown in Figure 2. (Gauthier, 1999; Wisconsin Sea Grant Website).


Source: USACOE website


            Figure 2 – The Great Lakes  (back to top)


The Great Lakes were first utilized at the conclusion of the War of 1812 when the battles for territory abruptly ended as the warriors became, or gave way to, the entrepreneurs, farmers, and laborers of modern industrialization.  Thus began the massive city and nation building that we now enjoy.  The lake waterways were the major routes of trade between the developing cities, and during the following 150 years the development of the area proceeded with great haste. Today, the international shipping trade annually transports over 50 million tons of cargo, which generates over 50 percent of the total manufacturing output of the United States.  The main commodities shipped within the Great Lakes region are coal, iron ore, grain, and petroleum products. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002).


Historically, the major industries around the lakes produced paper, chemical, steel, automobile, and other manufactured products.  A large portion of the steel industry is concentrated around the lake area because the iron ore, coal, and limestone needed for steel production are relatively close and are easily transported around the region.  The majority of paper making in the United States occurs around the upper lakes.  Chemical industries developed due to cheap electricity costs around the basin. However, all of these industries produce a large amount of waste.  Throughout the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, industrial waste was dumped into the lake waters.  Eventually, problems emerged and the threat to public health prompted the United States and Canadian governments to address the situation. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995).


Many of the hazards to human and environmental health due to industrial pollution were not recognized until the late twentieth century.  The clean-up efforts around the Great Lakes region require cooperation and capital among the states, provinces, and federal government agencies.  However, Great Lakes management is complicated due to the international cooperation required to effectively manage the ecosystem.  Pollution prevention measures include clean-up plans to properly deal with the wastes. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)

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Overview and History of the Great Lakes


The Great Lakes have played an important role in the settlement and development of the region.  The waves of immigrants to the Great Lakes area since the late nineteenth century have exploited the region through logging, farming, commercial fishing, mining, and industrialization.  This has led to profound changes in the ecological system.  The intense logging has removed much of the shade and tight soil from the area.  The sawmills processing lumber dumped sawdust and other bi-products into the nearby streams and rivers, clogging these waterways.  In addition, streams and lake shorelines were littered with debris and sediment.  As farming activities commenced, exposed soils were washed away and deposited in streams, rivers, and other lake tributaries.  The onset of commercial fishing has reduced the abundance of fish, and in some cases has caused the extinction of a few species.  The untreated waste products from early and late industrialization has degraded the local rivers and the lakes, while the growing urbanization that accompanied the industrialization lead to nuisance conditions along the shore areas. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


Lake Superior is surrounded mostly by forested land with sparse human population; thus, relatively few pollutants enter it from the surrounding land.  However, airborne/atmospheric pollutants are constantly entering the lake.  Lake Huron is more populated than Lake Superior, but is primarily used for recreation and has little industry.  Pollutants are introduced directly by human activities. Lake Michigan generally has two different regions.  The first is the less developed and sparsely populated northern region, used primarily for recreation, and the second is the mostly urbanized and active southern region.  The majority of the pollutants introduced to the lake are in the southern region and are the direct result of human activities.  Lake Erie is surrounded with fertile soil and is therefore intensively farmed, but is also used for recreation.  Approximately one-third the population of the Great Lakes Basin resides around Lake Erie.  Lake Erie receives considerable runoff from the agricultural areas surrounding it.  This runoff is the primary source of pollution to the lake.  However, other direct methods also contribute to the pollution, as this lake is exposed to the greatest stress not only because of its size but because of its urbanization and agricultural intensity as well.  Lake Ontario, like Lake Michigan, is used for both recreation and industry.  The vast majority of industrial facilities along the shores contribute most of the pollution.  However, other significant factors of pollution also exist. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


By the mid-1960s, the growing concern about the overall quality of the Great Lakes led to the development of controls and regulatory mandates.  During the 1970s, it became apparent that pollution caused by persistent toxic substances was harming Great Lake species and posing risks to human and wildlife consumers of fish.  In addition, construction of municipal sewage treatment facilities also began.  By the late 1970s, these initiatives began having a dramatic improvement on the quality of water within the Great Lakes.  This improvement continued through the 1980s and 1990s. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


Today, the Great Lakes are a shared multipurpose resource used and managed at every level of government from local to international, even though they are still recovering from the effects of decades of pollution and neglect.  Two federal governments, eight states and two provinces share the basin and hundreds of governmental entities are charged with some aspect of the resource management task.  The incredible level and amount of cooperation that is required between two large and independent countries, which is so prevalent today, has taken many years to accomplish.  It started in 1905, with the joint creation of the International Waterways Commission by the governments of both the United States and Canada.  The commission was created to address water level effects and flow diversion resulting from the generation of electricity by hydropower that was beginning within the lake basins, and to advise the governments of both countries on lake water levels and related flows.  In 1909, the commission signed the Boundary Waters Treaty that instituted the International Joint Commission.  This treaty provides the means to overcome any disputes arising over water quality and/or quantity concerning the water boundary between the two countries.  The International Joint Commission is an independent international organization charged with preventing and resolving disputes over the use of water(s) shared by the United States and Canada, and was given authority to generate binding binational decisions concerning the use of boundary waters and any associated issues.  The International Joint Commission is required to monitor and assess progress made pursuant to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in particular the adequacy of actions by the two federal governments, the province of Ontario, and the eight Great Lakes states. (International Joint Commission Website)


The International Joint Commission investigates and reports on trans-boundary air and water pollution, persistent toxic substances, exotic species, and other matters of common concern along the international boundary.  The commission, when requested by the two federal governments, also provides advice on matters affecting the shared environment.  In addition, under the Boundary Waters Treaty, the commission approves projects, such as dams or water diversions, which affect water levels and flows along the boundary.  The commission fulfills this responsibility by reporting information every two years.  The first biennial report was released in 1981.  Since its inception, the majority of the commission’s efforts have gone towards advising governments about current problems and concerns around the lakes. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Environment Canada’s Website)


Studies conducted by the International Joint Commission during the 1940s and 1960s, but promulgated in 1970, concluded that phosphorus was the reason for excessive eutrophication within the lower lakes.  As a result of the study, the commission proposed basin-wide controls to reduce phosphorus loading in Lake Erie and implemented lake clean up.  That recommendation lead to the passing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972.  In April 1972, then-Prime Minister Trudeau and then-President Nixon signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  This milestone event committed Canada and the United States to address and control pollution in the Great Lakes and to clean up waste from industries and communities.  This agreement established common water-quality objectives between the two countries and showed that binational management could be accomplished despite the complex jurisdictional issues. The major issue at that time was phosphorus over-enrichment.  Since then, phosphorus loads have been reduced in Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan to below the levels required in the agreement.  In addition, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are very close to the specified levels.  Thus, the control of phosphorus in the Great Lakes represents successful international cooperation in producing positive environmental results. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Environment Canada’s Website)


Continuing in 1978, a second Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed which built upon the results of the earlier agreement.  In contrast to the 1972 agreement, the new agreement called for the restoration of the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem.  This agreement also called for the virtual elimination of the discharging of persistent toxic chemicals based on the irreversible damage of the substances.  The countries specifically committed themselves to rid the Great Lakes of persistent toxic substances - substances that linger in the environment for long periods of time and can potentially poison food sources for both animals and humans. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Environment Canada’s Website)


By the mid 1980s, it was obvious to both countries that the Great Lakes were the most important natural resource for millions of their citizens.  In 1986, the Water Resources Development Act was promulgated by the Congress of the United States, which enacted a policy to protect the quantity of water available in the Great Lakes.  As amended in September 2000, the Water Resources Development Act is a water conservation and resource improvement decision that was implemented to prohibit water diversion and/or export out of the Great Lake Basin unless approved by the Governors of each of the Great Lake States.  In 1987, Canada and the United States signed the 1987 Protocol, which updated the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to strengthen existing pollution controls and add new ones.  The 1987 Protocol also introduced other new annexes focusing on non-point contaminant sources, contaminated sediment, airborne toxic substances, contaminated groundwater, and associated research and development.  The pertinent annexes addressed include Annex 2 (Remedial Action Plans and Lakewide Management Plans), Annexes 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 (The Coast Guard Annexes), Annex 11 (Surveillance and Monitoring), Annex 12 (Persistent Toxic Substances), Annex 13 (Pollution from Non-point Sources), Annex 14 (Contaminated Sediment), and Annex 15 (Airborne Toxic Substances).  Emphasis was placed on the importance of human and aquatic ecosystem health.  Based on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, 43 Areas of Concern were identified in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.  Twenty-six are located within the United States, twelve are located within Canada, and five are bordered on both countries.  These Areas of Concern are isolated geographical locations where serious problems remain, where water or living organisms are adversely affected, or where environmental standards are not met.  The purpose of identifying these areas is to encourage local jurisdictions to rehabilitate these problem areas and restore them to their natural state.  The majority of these areas are located near the mouths of tributaries and connecting lake channels around cities and industries.  The severely degraded geographic locations of Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes Basin are shown in Figure 3  (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Environment Canada’s Website; Michigan DEQ, 2000; International Joint Commission Website).


                                                                                       Source: Environmental Canada’s RAP website

            Figure 3 – Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes basin  (back to top)


In addition, the 1987 Protocol introduced provisions to develop and implement Remedial Action Plans and Lakewide Management Plans.  These Remedial Action Plans and Lakewide Management Plans are providing the vehicles for delivering toxic reduction activities both lakewide and at local hotspots.  Remedial Action Plans focus on geographic areas of concern by taking a unique ecosystem approach and draw upon broad local community involvement to address problems.  Each Remedial Action Plan identifies the nature, cause, and extent of the environmental problems within the area.  Remedial Action Plans identify when specific remedial actions are to be taken, and who is responsible for implementing them.  Remedial Action Plans are crucial for restoring the ecosystems in the Areas of Concern.  A Lakewide Management Plan is a plan of action to assess, restore, protect, and monitor the beneficial uses and ecosystem health of a particular Great Lake and to serve as a mechanism to address various ecosystem stressors.  Lakewide Management Plans are used to coordinate the work of all the government and non-government parties working to improve the lake ecosystem.  The Lakewide Management Plans are designed to improve the environmental quality of the open waters of each of the Great Lakes, with a particular focus on Critical Pollutants.  The eight Great Lakes States and the Province of Ontario have committed to further developing and implementing the Remedial Action Plans and the Lakewide Management Plans to restore beneficial uses in each Area of Concern within their political boundaries. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Environment Canada’s Website; Skinner, 2002; Elster, 2001; International Joint Commission Website)


In 1989 the Canadian government initiated the Great Lakes Action Plan, a five-year trial lasting until 1994.  It was designed to accelerate the cleanup of contaminated areas and prevent future pollution, as well as to support scientific research and public consultation.  In 1994, at the end of the five-year trial period, the federal governments of both Canada and the United States announced a subsequent six-year plan, Great Lakes 2000, to continue its work and reinforce these issues.  The culmination of the evolving government and management regulations, and the increase in public awareness and involvement, have resulted in an unprecedented improvement in the overall quality of the Great Lakes Basin.  A good example is the April 1997 adoption of the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy for the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes Basin by the governments of Canada and the United States.  As further actions are taken to continue the quality improvement and other steps are implemented to secure the gains made, the overall health and habitats of the ecosystem will prosper. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Ullrich, 2000)


In addition to the 1987 Protocol, both governments also established a policy to report the on-going status of the Great Lakes.  These biennial reports are commonly known as “The State of the Great Lakes”(SOGL) and are subsequently the center of discussions during the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences, which were established by both governments in 1992.  The conferences are an intensive binational effort directed toward establishing a consistent, easily understood set of ecosystem indicators to allow for more coordinated monitoring and better reporting on progress achieved under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  The chief objectives of the conferences are: assessing the state of the Great Lakes based on indicators; strengthening environmental management decision-making concerning the Great Lakes; and providing a forum to communicate and network with and among all the Great Lakes stakeholders.  According to Dr. Harvey Shear, a science advisor for Environment Canada, the preferred method to track the condition of the ecosystem is through a series of indicators.  “By using a set of easily understood indicators, it will become easier to assess how far we have come and how much farther we have to go to fully address the complex problems facing the Great Lakes.”  The indicators are categorized into six major groups: open and nearshore waters, coastal wetlands, nearshore terrestrial areas, human health, land use, and societal.  For each compartment, among other things, persistent toxic chemicals, exotic invasive species, nutrient loads, habitat, and climate changes will be evaluated. (SOGL, 2001)


In 1996, a comprehensive set of indicators was developed to assist progress reporting.  The two countries intend to use the indicators as a way to justify funding for future research since they will measure how close they are to achieving the goal.  There are currently 80 indicators that have been developed by scientists over the past few years to create a picture of the health of the Great Lakes Basin.  However, not all of the proposed indicators are being monitored.  Only 33 of the 80 indicators have enough data readily available to report findings and present information during the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences.  The indicators are expected to greatly influence future monitoring and data gathering.  The current indicator list is expected to be refined over the next decade, the 33 current indicators are presented in Table 1.  The total number of indicators with sufficient data to draw reasonable conclusions is expected to increase significantly in the years to come. (Environment Canada’s Website; SOGL, 2001).


Nearshore and Open Waters (13)

Land Use (4)

Atmospheric deposition of toxic


Contaminants in colonial nesting


Deformities, eroded fins, lesions and

     tumors in fish


Lake Trout

Native unionid mussels

Phosphorus concentrations and loadings

Phytoplankton populations

Preyfish populations


Spawning Sea Lamprey abundance


Zooplankton populations


Brownfield redevelopment

Mass transportation

Sustainable agricultural practices

Urban density


Human Health (4)

Air quality

Chemical contaminants in edible fish


Drinking water quality

E.coli and fecal coliform in recreational


Nearshore Terrestrial (4)

Area, quality, and protection of alvar


Extent of hardened shoreline

Contaminants affecting productivity of

     bald eagles

Population monitoring and contaminants

     affecting the American Otter


Coastal Wetlands (5)

Amphibian diversity and abundance

Coastal wetland area by type

Contaminants in snapping turtle eggs

Effect of water fluctuations

Wetland dependent bird diversity and


Societal (2)

Economic Prosperity

Water use

Unbounded (1)

Acid rain

Table 1 – 33 Current indicators (SOLEC, 2001)  (back to top)


Description of the Great Lakes Research Survey

Scientists from a variety of disciplines representing numerous state, provincial, and federal government agencies, along with countless academic institutions, have amassed scientific and technical knowledge on the Great Lakes ecosystem in support of basin improvement, public education, and policy formation.  The scientists are involved in research focusing on physical, chemical, and biological processes in lakes.  The end result of their research will be an excellent understanding of the lakes, along with their inhabitants, and how they respond to human activities and the promulgation of new policies or legislation for the protection of the Great Lakes Basin.  (Center for Great Lakes Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Website)


The main intention of this report is to present information on the current research efforts throughout the basin and present suggestions on the direction of future research and the public policies affecting it.  However, some background and historic information was deemed pertinent in understanding how the current research evolved.  It is intended to present where the major focus around the basin has been and to suggest the direction it should go in the near future.  The knowledge gained from this study, hopefully, will be applied to assist proper management of future lake activities and research.  In addition, it could be used to minimize the overlapping of research efforts and assist in maximizing the use of current funding. (Center for Great Lakes Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Website)


Managing water resources is a major international effort that includes biological, ecological, hydrologic, chemical, engineering, socioeconomic, law and policy, education, and planning/management research components.  The management confusion generated by the large number of government and academic research has arisen due to the void resulting from the non-centralization of the astronomical volume of data collected so far.  Section VI of this report presents suggestions to help organize the information collected and how to categorize it. (Center for Great Lakes Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Website)

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Current interests around the Great Lakes


Over the centuries, the Great Lakes appeared invulnerable because of their seemingly infinite size.  Up until the 1950s, the lakes were considered too immense to be adversely affected by human activity, but it has been realized that they have been pushed to their limits.  The increasing burdens placed on them due to population growth, industry, and even recreation have disturbed the delicate balance and harmony of their environment.  The past few decades have shown how wrong we were.  (Cobb, 1987)

Toxic chemical loading

As industrialization and urbanization has increased over the past half century, new chemical substances have been introduced into the Great Lakes ecosystem.  The continuous loading(s) of contaminants and nutrients remains a problem throughout the Great Lakes Basin.  The combination of synthetic fertilizers and nutrient-rich organic pollutants from sewage effluent and agricultural runoff has caused a disruption of biological activity by releasing large amounts of phosphorous, and other nutrients, into the lakes.  The amount of biological activity and production within the lakes determines the balance of food and oxygen distribution within the ecosystem.  These nutrients, especially phosphorus, initially stimulate the growth of algae and other beneficial plants.  However, the overgrowth of the algae and plants causes depletion of the oxygen present in the water, resulting in their death and subsequent decay.  The resulting lack of oxygen leads to the death of fish.  Remedial actions initiated in the 1970s have reduced nutrient loadings and enhanced the role of food web interactions in improving water quality.  Phosphorus concentration in the lakes is currently under control with most areas being at or below target limits.  However, there are still some “hot spots” and strict adherence to existing targets must be implemented.  The variable conditions that have a great affect on this balance are ambient temperature, amount of sunlight, water depth, water volume, and amount of nutrients.  (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; SOGL, 1999 and 2001)


Man-made chemicals may be present in lake water at such low concentrations that even sensitive instruments fail to detect them.  However, many of these chemicals do not break down in the environment and tend to bioaccumulate in water organisms.  The concentrations are stored within the cell structures and become much higher in the living cells than in the open water.  This accumulation is repeated at each level in the food chain and produces vastly increased chemical concentrations.  This is referred to as biomagnification.  The concentration of chemicals in the fatty tissues of top fish predators is usually millions of times higher than in the initial open water concentrations.  This is important since humans are not only at the top of many food chains, but because they are consumers in the Great Lake chain as well. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


During the 1970s, it became apparent that pollution caused by persistent toxic substances was harming a variety of species and posing risks to human and wildlife consumers of fish.  Persistent toxic substances resulting from human activity, particularly those that bioaccumulate, were targeted for reduction through a management approach to ultimately achieve naturally occurring levels.  Several bird and fish species problems were identified stemming from the use of  dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs), very toxic and persistent chemicals.  DDT and PCBs have since been banned, and other less toxic chemicals have been developed to replace them.   (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997)


Several factors make the Great Lakes particularly susceptible to the effects of persistent contaminants: (1) nearly closed system, (2) long water retention time, (3) low sedimentation rates, (4) low biological productivity, (5) low suspended solids concentrations, (6) presence of a largely self-contained fish and wildlife population, (7) heavy concentration of industries and large population centers surrounding the lakes, and (8) huge surface areas susceptible to airborne contaminants. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997; Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


The Lake Michigan Mass Balance Study is the largest toxic contaminant monitoring and modeling project ever undertaken.  It was designed and created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to answer questions that will help environmental managers make well informed, scientifically based decisions on reducing toxic pollutants.  The Mass Balance Model will determine what effects reduction in pollutant loads will have on the lake and on contaminant levels in fish tissue. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997)


While surface water runoff is the major pathway for the majority of toxic substances to enter the lakes, research has discovered that many pollutants are also deposited from the atmosphere.  Nutrients and toxic contaminants can be carried from far-off sources and deposited within the Basin.  Long range transportation of these substances was confirmed by the PCBs and toxaphene discovered in fish within a remote part of Lake Superior that is isolated from all direct sources.  Projected future climate changes could heavily impact ecological conditions, as a potentially warmer and drier climate will affect agricultural activities. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002)


Pollutants entering the Great Lakes from the air constitute part of the ecosystem approach espoused in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  In 1966, the Governments of Canada and the United States asked the International Joint Commission to monitor air quality along the entire Canada-United States boundary and, where appropriate, draw air pollution problems to their attention.  The Commission subsequently established the International Air Quality Advisory Board.  The role of the Board is to identify and provide advice on air pollution issues with trans-boundary implications.  An initial action was to define the airshed of the boundary.  This was done by analyzing the potential for air contaminants originating in one country to travel by prevailing winds across the border and impact the other country.  The ten Board members possess expertise in various aspects of air pollution effects and control.  Appointed by the International Joint Commission, they serve in their personal and professional capacities. The role of the Board is entirely advisory. (Environment Canada’s Website)


It has been postulated, through research and modeling, that air currents from Mexico, and even as far away as Russia, flow through the Great Lakes Basin bringing airborne chemicals and pollutants from their areas.  The International Joint Commission estimates approximately 99 percent of all lead entering Lake Michigan, 97 percent entering Lake Superior, 94 percent entering Lake Huron, and up to 50 percent entering Lakes Erie and Ontario comes from the atmosphere.  The atmospheric weather pattern around the continental Great Lakes is the culmination of mixed airflows coming into the region from various directions.  The prevailing air mass movement is from west to east across the region.  The air masses range from Maritime-Tropical from the Gulf of Mexico, to Continental-Polar from the Arctic North.  The atmosphere represents a boundary-less region for the deposition of toxic chemicals to be introduced to the basin.  These atmospheric contaminants are deposited by both wet and dry deposition.  Wet deposition is the washing of contaminants out of the atmosphere through rain, snow and hail.  During dry deposition, contaminants are blown by wind in the form of dust and debris.  Approximately 90 percent of PCBs introduced to Lake Superior are carried through the atmosphere.  In addition, 63 percent of the PCBs introduced to Lake Huron and 58 percent introduced to Lake Michigan were airborne.  The Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network was established in 1999 as a joint U.S. and Canada committee to evaluate and monitor the atmospheric deposition of toxic pollutants into the Great Lakes Basin.  The atmospheric deposition of mercury and PCBs are the major concerns presently.  Approximately 200 tons of mercury is deposited in the basin each year, primarily from waste incinerators and chlorine production.  Additionally, over 4,000 tons of PCBs are deposited each year. (Henry, 1994; SOGL, 1999; Skinner, 2002)


Water levels

Water levels around the Great Lakes Basin have been measured since the 1840s, and initial indications show lake level fluctuations occur on an average of 160 years, with sub-fluctuations on an average of 33 years.  However, the amplitude of water level fluctuations has decreased significantly since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959.  Lake levels are determined by precipitation, upstream inflows, surface water runoff, evaporation, diversions and water-level regulation.  A mass balance between the amount of water entering the watershed and the amount exiting the watershed shows the relationship of these variables on lake water levels.  Climate conditions control the amount of precipitation as well as the rate of evaporation.  These two factors are the primary factors influencing lake water levels.  The lakes depend on a large influx of water from the surrounding areas over winter.  When above-average precipitation combined with cool and cloudy weather occurs, the water levels rise.  Conversely, long periods of below-average precipitation with warmer weather result in lower water levels.  In addition, during the winter months, in the absence of an ice layer, water will evaporate out of the lakes. (Gauthier, 1999; Kurth, 2002a; SOGL, 2001)


In general, there are three types of water-level fluctuations; short-term, seasonal, and long-term.  Short-term fluctuations, ranging from a few hours to several days, are generally caused by storms, ice build-up, and excessive plant growth.  Seasonal fluctuations happen yearly as the Great Lakes Basin experiences four distinct seasonal climates.  The seasonal fluctuations in water level are the most common and range from 16 to 20 inches between the winter month lows and the summer month highs.  As seasons change, the wind velocities and directions also change, altering the path of waves.  Annual, or seasonal, variations in water levels are mainly due to differences between the volume of water gained during the summer months and the volume of water lost during the winter months.  Long-term fluctuations occur over many years, and are mostly the result of atmospheric climate changes that affect precipitation and plate tectonic activity.  Climate change is becoming more extreme, and that could lead to larger fluctuations in the lake levels.  Crustal movement has a lasting semi-permanent affect on lake water levels.  Mostly the result of upward rebounding, the northern portions of the basin have been rising while the southern portions have been predominately stationary.  As a result, the Great Lakes Basin is becoming permanently tipped.  The obvious result of the crustal tipping is a lowering of lake levels in Lake Superior and the northern portions of Lakes Huron and Michigan, and a subsequent rise in lake levels in the southern parts of Lakes Huron and Michigan, along with Lakes Erie and Ontario. (Gauthier, 1999)


Historically, the lake levels hit extreme lows in the mid-1920s, the mid-1930s, and the mid-1960s.  Record highs were recorded in the late-1870s, the late 1920s, the early-1950s, the early-1970s, the mid-1980s, and the mid-1990s.  However, because of other factors, water levels have been dropping over the past few years.  Dramatic declines in lake water levels could compromise the ecological health of the entire basin and create economic concern for multiple industries around the lakes. Flooding and erosion damage is also a concern and leads to public pressure to regulate lake levels through diversion and control structures. (Gauthier, 1999; Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


The Great Lakes Charter of 1985 was formed to conserve the levels and flows of the Great Lakes, along with their tributary and connecting waters; to protect and conserve the environmental balance of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem; to provide for cooperative programs and management of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin through States and Provinces; to ensure and protect present developments within the region; and to provide a secure foundation for future investment and development within the region.  This is done in accordance with the guidelines established by the International Joint Commission, which has binational jurisdiction in controlling the boundary waters.  Currently, water levels and diversion are controlled at two points in the Great Lakes Basin: at Sault Saint Marie where Lake Superior empties into the St. Marys River, and near Cornwall, Ontario, some 100 miles from where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River.  The International Joint Commission regulates the flow through these stations, under the Lake Superior Board of Control and the International St. Lawrence River Board, respectively. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; US Environmental Protection Agency Website)


The lake water levels are the responsibility of the International Joint Commission and are to comply with the terms of the Boundary Water Treaty set in 1909.  The International Joint Commission manages water levels and flows for navigational and hydropower production.  In 1973, after almost ten years of study, the International Joint Commission concluded that the high costs of developing, building, and maintaining a system of engineering controls for regulating water levels in the lakes would not be feasible. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


Dredging has also had an affect on water levels.  As ships on the Great Lakes grew larger, it became necessary to dredge the rivers and channels to meet the new depth requirements, thus affecting water levels.  Dredging activities conducted to enlarge and deepen existing navigational channels were performed between 1930 and 1960.  As a result of those activities, the water levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have been permanently lowered by almost 16 inches. (Environment Canada’s Website; Gauthier, 1999)


While existing engineering flow controls and dredging activities have served to improve the usefulness of the lakes, the results of many surveys have concluded that any future engineering activities will be futile. That is because, by far, the major factors affecting water level fluctuations are precipitation, evaporation, upstream inflows, and runoff.  The lakes require a large influx of water during the late winter months, and that has not been happening recently.  Great Lakes water levels have dropped considerably the past few years, primarily due to meager snowfall during the winters and increased evaporation during the warmer summers.  Water levels in the Great Lakes are now significantly below their historic averages.  As shown in Figure 4, water levels are lower than normal but above their historic lows.  Since 1997, Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan are down almost three feet, and Lakes Ontario and Superior, which are mechanically regulated, are down almost one foot.  Decreases in water levels equates to over 60 trillion gallons of water.  In February 2001, the Detroit News reported that Lake Superior was six inches lower than the previous year and was 13 inches below its long term average; Lakes Michigan and Huron were each down five inches and were about 23 inches lower than their long term averages; Lake Erie was down nine inches and Lake Ontario was down four inches from their long term averages.  However, since June 2001, Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie are still 10 and 24 inches, respectively, above the record lows set in 1964 and 1934. (Gauthier, 1999; Sellinger, 2001; Pearce, 2001)


            Figure 4 – Great Lake water level changes in the past few years  (back to top)


Water diversion

Water diversion and consumption play a major part in affecting lake levels.  Diversion is defined here as the removal of water from one watershed to a separate one.  The majority of diverted water ends up in the Mississippi River, while most consumed water evaporates or is used in industrial cooling operations.  However, a 1982 study by the International Joint Commission concluded that atmospheric conditions and changes have far more influence on water levels than human diversions. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


The waters of the Great Lakes Basin are interconnected and are part of a single hydrologic system. The multiple uses of these resources are for municipal, industrial, and agricultural water supply; mining; navigation; hydroelectric power and energy production; recreation; and the maintenance of fish and wildlife habitat for a balanced ecosystem are interdependent.  Studies conducted by the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes States and Provinces, and other agencies have found that without careful and prudent management, the future development of diversions and consumptive uses of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin may have significant adverse impacts on the environment, economy, and welfare of the Great Lakes region.  (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; SOGL, 2001)


While the majority of all water withdrawn is eventually returned, roughly two percent annually withdrawn is consumed.  Water consumption, which is a form of diversion, is defined as water withdrawn from the watershed that is not returned.  Examples of this include drinking water, irrigation water, and many industrial uses of water.  The Great Lakes continue to be the source of drinking water for tens of millions of people.  Tens of billions of gallons of water are drawn from the lakes per day for human use.  The average household uses 100 gallons of water per day per person, while 100 times that is used by power generating facilities for both energy generation and equipment cooling.  In 1999, more than 4,250 cubic feet of water was lost from the Great Lakes Basin per second due to consumptive use.  The amount will increase since the population on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes Basin is expected to rise by about 20 percent, or an estimated 12 million people, by 2020 while the United States population is expected to remain constant. (Gauthier, 1999)


Non-consumptive water is the water that is returned to the watershed after it has been diverted and used.  Examples of this include recreation activities, transportation, and direct hydroelectric power generation.  During periods of significant water level decrease and/or diversion, power generation is substantially affected.  (Gauthier, 1999)


There are three main areas in the Great Lakes where water is diverted.  The first area is at the Ogoki and Long Lac diversions, north of Lake Superior.  Water is taken from the Hudson Bay watershed to drive hydroelectric power plants on rivers feeding Lake Superior.  The result is an increase in the amount of water that flows into Lake Superior of about 5,900 cubic feet of water per second.  The second water diversion is the Lake Michigan diversion near Chicago which is used for water supply, sewage disposal and commercial navigation purposes.  Water is removed from Lake Michigan at the rate of 3,200 cubic feet per second and is sent through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and eventually discharged to the Mississippi River where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.  The third diversion point is the Welland Canal diversion around Niagara Falls.  Water is diverted for the generation of hydroelectric power and for shipping.  The canal diverts some 9,000 cubic feet of water per second from Lake Erie.  However, almost all of it is eventually discharged into Lake Ontario.  Meanwhile, withdrawals and consumptive use appears to have slowed.  Although the Long Lac and Ogoki diversions have been steadily increasing the water supply to Lake Superior over the years, resulting in a nearly one inch rise in water level, the other diversions have reduced Lake Michigan's and Lake Huron's by one-half inch.   At the present time, more water is diverted into the system than is taken out. (Environment Canada’s Website)


In addition, over the past few years the diversion of water outside the basin has become a big issue as states outside the basin are trying to get water diverted for use in their areas.  Public concern on the potential movement of freshwater beyond the Great Lakes Basin continues to grow.   A large number of proposals exist to initiate the sale of water to the fast-growing, water-poor areas of the U.S. (Midwest and Southwest).  The massive engineering needed to accomplish this has been proposed to supply water to these areas.  If they are successful, that water would be considered consumed and excluded from the basin volumes.  In the past, all the Great Lake States and the Province of Ontario have opposed these ideas.  The Great Lakes Commission unanimously adopted a policy position opposing the withdrawal of Great Lakes water for overseas export at their 1998 Annual meeting.  Many of the basin states, and the province of Ontario, oppose the removal of lake water and, in accordance with Section 504 of the Water Resource Development Act, bulk export or diversion from the Great Lakes cannot take place without the unanimous approval of all the Great Lakes Governors.  In addition, an International Joint Commission report states that removing bulk quantities of water reduces the resilience of the Great Lakes to withstand stress.  To date, no regular trade has begun to ship water; however, caution is warranted regarding future water uses.  Both the U.S. and Canadian governments remain concerned that existing management principles and conservation measures may be inadequate to ensure future sustainable use of the lakes. (Environment Canada’s Website; Skinner, 2002; Gauthier, 1999; Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Elster, 2001; Michigan DEQ, 2000)


Sediment contamination and transport

Contaminated sediments contain pollutants that have entered the lakes through decades of industrial and municipal discharges, combined sewer overflows, and urban and agricultural non-point source runoff.  Although the majority of the industrial sources responsible for the contamination have disappeared, their activities are still visible in the sediments.  In addition, excessive tillage and intensive crop rotations have led to serious soil erosion that, in turn, results in sediment deposition in the major tributaries and confluences of the lakes.  As rivers and other tributaries enter the lake(s), they slow down and lose their ability to carry sediments.  The heavy and coarse materials drop out first and finer silts and clays are carried farther along.  Because many contaminants are associated with different sediment types, contaminant distribution is often linked to sediment deposition. (Wisconsin Sea Grant Website)


Disturbed sediments can carry nutrients, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals down current and cause turbidity, which greatly reduces the amount of sunlight that can penetrate the water.  Until permanently buried, contaminants can be stirred up with the sediment by storms, biological activity, dredging, ship movement, and wave action.  The high concentration of contaminants in the bottom sediment poses serious human and ecological health concerns as they can be re-suspended by storms, ship propellers, and bottom-dwelling organisms.  The lakes have a very long water retention time span for water to move through the system.  That, combined with a relatively low outflow rate, means contaminants don't leave the water quickly.  While a fraction of some contaminants are removed from the lakes through volatilization, many are broken down in the water and become less harmful and/or can be removed by the slow flushing of the system.  A study of the importance of such episodic resuspension events to the cycling of contaminants has been initiated.  The Episodic Events-Great Lakes Experiment (EEGLE) is leading a study on the impact of episodic storm events on sediment resuspension and constituent transport. (SOGL, 2001; US Environmental Protection Agency Website on contaminated sediment; Skinner, 2002)


The issue of contaminated sediments affects all of the Great Lakes, the rivers that connect them, and the majority of tributaries within the basin.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes program identifies polluted sediments as being the largest major impairment in all of the 43 Areas of Concern.  Scientific research has confirmed the significance of bottom sediments as an ongoing source of contaminants to the Great Lakes.  The “hot spots” for contaminated sediments are shown in Figure 5.  A study of PCB concentration in Green Bay found that over 90 percent of the ongoing PCB contamination in Green Bay sport fish came from contaminated bottom sediments.  Monitoring of Lake Superior during the 1990s suggested a similar conclusion that the release of PCBs from the bottom sediments is the dominating source of food web contamination.  Contaminated sediment is among the main causes of fish consumption advisories around the basin.  Many of the small bottom-dwellers ingest the contaminants as they feed in the mud.  As larger animals eat these smaller animals, the toxins move up the food chain. (SOGL, 2001; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Website on contaminated sediment)


                                                                                                                Source: Wisconsin Sea Grant website

            Figure 5 – Sediment contamination Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes basin  (back to top)


While progress has been made to reduce the quantity of contaminants entering the Great Lakes, through the construction of treatment facilities, changes in industrial processes, and other physical solutions, complete contaminant remediation may be impossible due to in-place contaminated sediments.  A hotly debated topic surrounding contaminated sediments is the determination whether to remove them by dredging or leave the contaminated sediments in place, to be overlain with “new” clean sediment.  If the contaminated sediments are left alone, what affect will they have on the overall quality of the water and will they represent a source of future contamination to the lakes through resuspension?  Sediment removal or remediation is inhibited by complex regulations, limited resources and funding, lack of corporate and public involvement, and insufficient technological improvements.  (Atkinson, 2001; SOGL, 1999; Skinner, 2002)


Biological and ecological issues

The Great Lakes Basin offers unique biological and ecological conditions that support a variety of biological activity.  The basin contains some 130 species that are globally rare and/or found only around the Great Lakes.  The majority of this biological ecosystem exists along the shores of the Great Lakes, and nearly all fish types rely on the near-shore waters for their continued existence (food, residence, migration, spawning, etc.).  A healthy and safe habitat for these native and rare species is essential. (Gauthier, 1999; Skinner, 2002)


The growing industrialization and urbanization around the Great Lakes has lead to the degradation of the overall water quality causing bacterial contamination, waterborne diseases, putrescence, and floating debris.  After heavy rains or snowmelts, various pollutants from streets, construction sites, industrial and commercial areas, and other sources are often transported directly to tributary waterways.  In addition, urban growth combined with strong weather events overload sewer systems, resulting in the discharge of raw sewage to basin tributaries and the lakes themselves. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002)


Presently, the biological and ecological effects of non-indigenous species in the Great Lakes is being evaluated.  The impact of introduced or exotic species on the flora and fauna of the lakes, as well as the commercial industry, has been devastating and is finally being addressed.  The introduction of non-native species has caused severe disruptions to the food web and has had negative economic consequences.  Over the past century and a half, over 160 invasive non-indigenous species have entered the Great Lakes Basin. Over one-third of them have been introduced since the late 1950s, with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  In addition, new species associated with shipping activities have been identified.  (Skinner, 2002; US Environmental Protection Agency Website)


Introduction of exotic (non-native) species of plants, animals, and fish has made a large impact on the lake system.  Sea lamprey, carp, smelt, alewife, pacific salmon, and zebra mussels are examples of aquatic species that have had large impacts on the lake fishery system.  As a result, sport fishing and other recreational activities have been reduced, and there have been severe negative economic consequences and associated increased industry infrastructure costs resulting from non-native species effects.  On land, plants such as purple loosestrife and european buckthorn have displaced native species.  Select exotic, non-native species that have a profound affect on the ecosystem are shown in Table 2. (SOGL, 2001)





Asian clam

Blueback herning

Eurasian ruffe

European green crab

Freshwater jellyfish

Japanese shore crab

New Zealand mudsnail

Quagga mussel

Round goby

Rusty crayfish

Sea lamprey

Tubenose goby

White perch

Zebra mussel

Carolina fanwort

Curly-leaf pondweed

Eurasian watermilfoil

European buckthorn

European water-clover

Flowering rush


Purple loosestrife


Yellow iris



Planktonic species:

Red-eared slider




Fishhook waterflea

Parasitic copepod

Spiny waterflea

            Table 2 - Select exotic, non-native species.  (back to top)


Zebra mussels were originally introduced to the lakes in the late 1980s and are believed to have originated from the fresh water rivers within the Soviet Union.  It is theorized they entered the Great Lakes Basin by “hitch-hiking” in the bilges and ballast water of ocean liners.  These fingernail sized mollusks filter algae, and other small matter, with a high rate of efficiency.  Zebra mussels have made great progress in removing microscopic materials from the lake waters with extraordinary results.  Zebra mussels are successful because they live on a variety of foods.  The small mollusks are present in very large quantities throughout the lakes and have accomplished unparalleled results in filtering and clarifying the lake water.  However, these zebra mussels are a threat because they rapidly reproduce, clog up water and drain pipes at municipal water supplies and industries, cover nearly every square inch of hard surfaces in the lakes, displace native freshwater mussels, threaten the food supply of other organisms by consuming most of the nutrients and algae, thereby drastically altering the food chain and cycling contaminants through the food web.  Zebra mussels attach to hard surfaces (i.e. boats, water pipes, docks, etc.) as well as living things (i.e. clams, crayfish, turtles, etc.) and generally remain in one location.  Zebra mussel densities, at some locations, have reached 55,000 per square foot.  The over-winter survival rate is in excess of 75 percent and this translates into higher colonization’s with greater impacts expected during the following year.  The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that during the next ten years, over $5 billion will be spent on the removal of these mussels. (US Geological Survey Website; SOGL, 1999; Shultz, 1996)


The sea lamprey first appeared in the lakes in the mid-1830s. It is a parasitic invasive species native to the Atlantic Ocean that is able to spawn and live entirely in fresh water.  It entered the basin through the manmade locks and canals, first in Lake Ontario, then into Lake Erie through the Welland canal, and eventually spread throughout all the lakes.  The sea lamprey caused severe damage to lake trout, white fish, and chub populations.  The lake trout, walleye, salmon, whitefish, chub, and yellow perch populations have been severely affected by the sea lamprey and the populations are still declining.  In addition, the population of alewife has exploded since the sea lamprey destroyed the prevailing top predators.  The sea lamprey has a round, tooth filled, mouth that it uses to attach to fish.  This aggressive species feeds on bodily fluids of Great Lakes fish resulting in the scarring and/or subsequent death of the host individual.  The sea lamprey not only almost destroyed the lake trout population but also had an enormous negative impact on Great Lakes fishery.  During the past 20 years, the lamprey population has fluctuated but has been increasing since the mid-1990s.  Lake Huron seems to contain the largest population of sea lamprey and in 1997 a control strategy was initiated in the St. Marys River to bring the lamprey population under control.  Methods of control include introduction of sterile males in order to decrease spawning success, lampricide treatments, and barriers in streams to prevent the species from reaching the lake.  Today, the sea lamprey is successfully being controlled, due primarily to the control strategies and the efforts of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.  This will allow for growth in the populations of many native top predator species. (SOGL, 1999 and 2001; Elster, 2001)


The eurasian ruffe is an invasive spiny fish with minimal food value that was first discovered in the early 1980s.  Native species such as trout and perch have trouble competing with the prolific ruffe.  The impact of this non-native species has been difficult to document until recently.  Research indicates that the growth in population of yellow perch has been significantly curtailed by the ruffe, because eurasian ruffe feed on the eggs of whitefish and compete with more desirable fish such as yellow perch. In addition, ruffe are believed to impact lake herring, as well as other fall spawning fish, resulting in increased mortality. (SOGL, 1999; Elster, 2001)


The round goby is a small, bottom dwelling, aggressive exotic fish which feeds on zebra mussels that was first discovered in 1990.  The round goby are themselves food for other fish.  Unfortunately, the round goby also competes with, and can replace, native species by sharing their habitat.  This invasive species is expected to displace native fish by out competing them for food and habitat.  Lake Erie has been experiencing exponential growth of the round goby lately.  To control the spread of goby, a barrier consisting of an electric field appears to be the best approach. (Elster, 2001; SOGL, 1999)


The spiny waterflea, like the zebra mussel, was introduced to the lakes through discharge from the ballast water of large ships.  The spiny waterflea was discovered in Lake Superior in 1987 and competes with small fish for food, primarily plankton. It competes with young fish for food and have significant impacts on lake plankton.  Because the spiny waterflea rapidly reproduces and roams relatively unimpeded, they monopolize food supplies and alter energy flows. (SOGL, 1999; Elster, 2001)


The Rusty Crayfish was discovered in Lake Superior in 1999, and was likely released as live bait by fishermen.  They are a very aggressive species that can “clear-cut” the aquatic vegetation of an area and have the potential to displace the native crayfish in the basin. (SOGL, 1999; Elster, 2001)


The Cercopagis Pengoi, a crustacean, is the latest exotic crustacean to invade the Great Lakes.  Identified first in Lake Ontario August 1998, it is unknown how it has inhabited the Great Lakes before first being reported.  Cercopagis Pengoi feeds on zooplankton impacting the ecosystem similar to the spiny water flea.  It can reproduce at high rates leading to large densities throughout the Great Lakes.  It is likely that this animal will spread throughout the lakes in time. Cercopagis Pengoi can affect both the size and composition of phytoplankton communities. (SOGL, 1999; Elster, 2001)


Purple loosestrife came to this country from Europe in the 1800s.  While it does sport a pretty purple flower, the exotic weed can be deadly to native plants and animals.  The flower can now be found in Canada and all the lower 48 states except Florida, and the plants are very prolific.  A single purple loosestrife can produce nearly two million seeds each year.  The tiny seeds float downstream or are caught by the wind, quickly spreading the infestation.  Scientists have screened loosestrife pests in its native Europe to fine critters that could help control the weed in this country.  One weapon they've found is beetles from the genus Galerucella.  The adult beetles and their larvae feed voraciously on purple loosestrife.  Experiments in Canada have shown that the beetles can whittle down the population of purple loosestrife by 90 percent.  So far, the beetles have performed so well at small sites because after just a year, the plants were stressed enough that they didn't flower. (Elster, 2001)


Exotic species are considered among the most severe forms of habitat alteration and a major cause of continuing loss of biological diversity in the ecosystem.  Large water users, including municipalities and industries, pay an average of $360,000 per year to control zebra mussels.  Native clams have been decimated in some parts due to food competition. (Elster, 2001)


Fish health and fisheries

It has been estimated that over 185 different species of fish were indigenous to the Great Lakes at one time.  Changes in the species over the past 200 years have largely been due to human activities within the ecosystem.  During the 1970s, it became apparent that pollution caused by persistent toxic substances was harming Great Lakes fish species and posing a risk to human and wildlife consumers. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


The lowest level of the Great Lakes food chain is occupied by phytoplankton, microscopic plants that absorb their necessary nutrients from the water. As phytoplankton absorb nitrogen and phosphorus, they also collect contaminants and are eaten by zooplankton, which, in turn, are eaten by progressively larger fish. Phytoplankton are most likely contaminated from the dissolved fraction of contaminants in the water column, but some can also be transferred in the suspended fraction. (Wisconsin Sea Grant Website)


As shown in Figure 6, all of the Great Lakes states currently have fish consumption advisories in place for one or more species of fish.  The advisories are due mainly because of mercury, PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, and DDT.  As part of the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Canada and the United States pledged to seek the elimination of toxic chemical discharges into the Great Lakes Basin.  The fisheries and fishing industry around the Great Lakes have suffered terribly over the past few decades as a result of chemical contamination.  In addition to the chemical contamination of fish and slow population growth, fish populations have been greatly depleted because of over-fishing, the introduction of non-indigenous species, habitat loss and degradation, and the subsequent changes in the food chain.  These concerns led to the negotiation and signing of the four-party Niagara River Declaration of Intent in 1987 and the development of the Lake Ontario Toxics Management Plan, which has been incorporated into the Lake Ontario Lake Management Plan program.  All the Great Lakes have fish advisories that are expected to remain in place for the next few decades. (Atkinson, 2001; Elster, 2001)




                                                                                                       Source:  Elster, 2001

            Figure 6 – Number of fish advisories for the Great Lakes states (1998)  (back to top)


Fish populations have been stressed by toxic contaminant pollution, which has altered nutrient loading and fish health.  This has had an enormous negative impact on Great Lakes fishing.  Another factor includes engineering controls (dams, weirs, canals, etc.) causing some species to migrate out or perish.  The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a binational organization, was established to support fisheries research, address the management of the sea lamprey, and advise both governments on how to improve the productivity of Great Lake fisheries. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002)


In addition, increased toxic contaminants could cause closure of additional fisheries.  Although pollutants may be excreted by fish, most of the persistent toxic substances are stored in the soft, fatty tissue where they gradually build up, or bioaccumulate.  Persistent contaminant concentrations in older, larger lake fish such as lake trout and salmon may be more than a million times higher per unit weight than concentrations in the surrounding lake water (biomagnification). (Wisconsin Sea Grant Website)


Urban sprawl and recreation

As the population and industries around the Great Lakes Basin continues to grow, more land and other resources will be used to sustain the growing populations and human life.  This growth is commonly referred to as urban sprawl.  Recreation is also an important part of the basin and human activity.  The Great Lakes region has been an attraction for leisure and recreation activities by millions of people as five of the ten largest U.S. states by population are Great Lakes states (3-New York, 5-Pennsylvania, 6-Illinois, 7-Ohio and 8-Michigan).  The recreational industry consists of boats and sports equipment, marinas, resorts, restaurants, and other industries that cater to those activities.  The eight states surrounding the Great Lakes have a combined total of almost four million registered recreational boats.  The need for publicly accessible recreation areas has reached a critical level since over 250 million people visit the area each year, and the majority of the waterfront property around the lakes is privately owned.  Since the early 1990’s, about 80 percent of the shoreline along the United States territory is privately owned and not accessible to the public.  This situation needs to be addressed, since approximately 20 percent of the Canadian shoreline is not accessible to the public. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002)


The modern age of the automobile has facilitated widespread low-density urban and suburban growth.  An indicated population increase of approximately 12 percent could result in an 87 percent increase in new developed land and construction of seasonal “second homes” or recreational cottages.  The retreat of industry from its traditional location along the nearshore provides an opportunity for waterfront and harbor redevelopment to reuse waterfront areas for public, commercial, residential, or leisure uses, or some mix of these. (Michigan DEQ, 2000)

(back to top)


Information on what is currently being done


There have been a large number of research agencies and teams studying the Great Lakes over the past half century.  Recently, however, the binational effort has been to combine efforts and data and thereby dramatically reduce overlapping and redundancy.  As mentioned and discussed previously in Section II, the 1987 Protocol to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement led to the development of indicators to track the condition of the ecosystem and justify funding for continuing research by the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences.  These indicators were selected and agreed upon by all the various research entities around the basin and are used to represent various aspects of the Great Lakes ecosystem.  Multiple federal, local, and private jurisdictions are involved in monitoring and collecting data from the basin for the indicators.  It is anticipated that these indicators will define the state of the Great Lakes.


According to a new study conducted by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, established under the North American Free Trade Agreement, between 1995 and 1999 the amount of toxic waste released into the environment by American manufacturers decreased by about seven percent, while in Canada, toxic releases increased by six percent.  The North American Free Trade Agreement report found Ontario had the largest increase in pollution of any state, or province, at 19 percent.  Ontario remains the fourth largest polluter in North America and is the biggest recipient of the United States toxic waste.  But it is not the only place in the Great Lakes highlighted in the study.  Five Great Lakes jurisdictions, Ohio, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, represent one fourth of the facilities and total releases that were looked at in the report.  (Kelly, 2002)

Toxic chemical loading

There are over 360 contaminants that have been identified in measurable amounts within the Great Lakes.  The contamination of the Great Lakes water and sediment with toxic chemicals threatens the quality of life for humans, fish, animals, and the entire ecosystem.  The major contaminants affecting the Great Lakes ecosystem are listed in Table 3.  In essence, these are substances that are present in the water, sediment, or aquatic life within the Great Lakes system, and that are exerting a toxic effect on aquatic, animal, and human life.  The most significant toxic substances in the basin are PCBs and pesticides.  Federal and state agencies have already banned the use of a number of persistent chemicals in the United States including PCBs and pesticides such as DDT, chlordane, aldrin/dieldrin, endrin, and toxaphene.  The PCBs are very persistent and have remained a major issue even-though their production and use was banned many years ago.  In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reassessing four organochlorine pesticides that remain on the United States market; dicofol, methoxychlor, lindane, and endosulfan. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997; Flint, 1989; Michigan DEQ, 2000)












Dioxins and Furans














Table  3 - Major contaminants affecting the Great Lakes ecosystem.  (SOGL, 2001)  (back to top)


Mercury contamination of aquatic ecosystems has become a problem of national and international concern.  Mercury is a heavy metal that is persistent and bioaccumulates. The major sources of mercury are coal-fired power plants, chlorine production, municipal waste combustors, incinerators and smelting operations.  Coal plants and waste incinerators produce most of this mercury pollution as well as sulfur dioxides, which cause acid rain.  The primary source of mercury loading is through atmospheric deposition.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, human activity has doubled or tripled the amount of mercury in the atmosphere.  Scientists believe that atmospheric deposition of mercury contributes most of the mercury found in lake waters.  Therefore, source controls for current contaminants must be adhered to and contaminant levels need to continue their current decline into the future.  Projects for the removal of mercury from devices in automobiles, used thermostats and thermometers, etc. prior to scrappage, have been instituted since mercury does not degrade and is not destroyed by combustion.  (Elster, 2001; Michigan DEQ, 2000; SOGL, 2001)


There are currently two programs that were initiated for the reduction of Great Lakes contaminants: the Great Waters Program and the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy.  The Great Waters Program is an Amendment to the Clean Air Act of 1990. The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy is an on-going agreement between the U.S. and Canadian governments, signed in 1997, that sets specific goals to reduce persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes Basin over a ten-year period. These pollutants are especially dangerous to human health because they become more concentrated as they work their way up the food chain, and they remain in the environment for a long time.  The toxic substances identified within the lakes have been categorized into two levels.  "Level I" substances, listed in Table 4 represent the primary focus around which the two governments will concentrate their actions and efforts.  These Level I substances have been associated with adverse environmental impacts.  They represent an immediate priority and are targeted for virtual elimination through pollution prevention and other incentive-based actions that phase out their use, generation, or release in a cost-effective manner within the most expedient time frame.  The intent is to reduce such sources so as to achieve “naturally-occurring” levels. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997; Michigan DEQ, 2000)



   Alkylated lead




   Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT+DDD+DDE)

   Hexachlorobenzene (HCB)

   Mercury and mercury compounds



   Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

         {includes some 200 related chemicals}

   PCDD (Dioxins) and PCDF (Furans)


Table 4 – Level I toxic substances (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Study website)  (back to top)


The "Level II" set of substances, shown in Table 5, have been identified by one or both countries as having the potential to significantly impact the Great Lakes ecosystem through their use and/or release.  Until these substances are placed on the Level I list, the governments of Canada and the united States are encouraging pollution prevention activities to reduce levels in the environment of those substances and to conform with the laws and policies of each country, including pollution prevention.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada intend to consult with industries on proposed changes to the lists at the biennial meeting of the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference or another appropriate forum.  The two nations will share information regarding the persistence, bioaccumulation potential, and toxicity of Level II substances.  In addition, Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will periodically examine the substances to determine whether any Level II substances should be elevated to the Level I list, whether new substances which present threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem should be considered for inclusion on the Level I or II lists, and whether any other changes should be made.  If a substance is identified as Level I, the two countries will set binational virtual elimination challenges for it.  The elevation of a substance to Level I, or removal from Level II, is made after appropriate opportunity for public review and comment is concluded. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997)




   Cadmium and cadmium compounds





   Heptachlor and heptachlor epoxide

   Hexachlorobutadiene (+hexachloro-1,3-butadiene)







   Tetrachlorobenzene (1,2,3,4- and 1,2,4,5-)

   Tributyl tin

Table 5- Level II toxic substances (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Study website)  (back to top)


The Binational Toxics Strategy targets those substances presented in Level I and Level II lists for immediate action.  The Level 1 list is the preeminent focus.  It also calls for developing a process to select additional pollutants of concern that are not Level 1 or Level II substances but do require an action plan.  Action plans for the phaseout of PCBs, DDT, chlordane, mercury, and pesticides (Mirex, chlordane, heptachlor, dieldrin, aldrin, endrin, toxaphene, hexachlorobenzene, DDT, PCBs, dioxins and furans) already exist. (Elster, 2001)


Although nutrient levels have decreased in the lakes the past two decades, and dissolved oxygen levels have improved, chloride and nitrogen levels appear to be increasing.  However, concentrations and loading of chlorine and lead have decreased in the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.  In the Detroit River, lead has decreased, but chlorine has slightly increased.  The primary source of chloride is municipal wastewater discharge and salt used for road de-icing. (Great Lakes Strategy, 2002; Michigan DEQ, 2000)


Phosphorus levels, that were once increasing, have been leveling off.  The amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie, the most eutrophic lake, has decreased almost 10,000 tons a year.  However, the eastern basin of the lake shows an increase in phosphorus levels, and the Lake Michigan Mass Balance Study indicate levels may be rising in Lake Michigan as well.  The Lake Michigan Mass Balance Study is one of the largest and most detailed investigations providing state and federal environmental managers with data for toxic and nutrient loadings to Lake Michigan rivers, air, and open waters. (Great Lakes Strategy, 2002; Michigan DEQ, 2000; Elster, 2001)


The levels of copper and zinc are constant, and there has been no significant decline in PCBs or mercury since the mid-1980s.  However, atmospheric deposition accounts for over 80 percent of the source.  It has been estimated that 1,600 pounds of mercury and 3,400 pounds of PCBs are deposited annually into Lake Michigan alone.  The Great Lakes program has implemented a muli-facitated approach to address pesticide contamination around the Basin; including no longer using or releasing the industrial byproduct/contaminant octachlorostyrene, nor any of the five bioaccumulative pesticides (Mirex, chlordane, dieldrin/aldrin, toxaphene, and DDT).  To that end, all facilities producing Level I toxic pesticides in the U.S. have been closed. (Great Lakes Strategy, 2002; SOGL, 2001; Michigan DEQ, 2000; Elster, 2001)


The key objectives underway to reduce and/or prevent chemical pollution include: (1) institute "zero discharge" regulations to prohibit the dumping of persistent toxic chemicals such as PCBs and dioxins in the Lake Superior basin; (2) reduce, by 70 percent, toxic benzo(a)pyrene emissions from Great Lakes steel mills; (3) enforce Clean Air Act provisions on coke ovens; and (4) work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the contaminated sediments of the worst Great Lakes harbors, including Green Bay, Grand Claumet, Cuyahoga River, Buffalo, and Toronto.  In compliance with the program, the Chairman of one chlor-alkali producer, Olin Corporation, has announced a goal of zero discharge of mercury at its chlor-alkali facilities.  Commitments have been made by the Daimler Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford Motor companies to eliminate polychlorinated biphenyls electrical equipment at their facilities.  Mercury reduction at three Northwest Indian steel mills and the Chlorine Institute have been announced. (Elster, 2001; Skinner 2002)


Water levels

Water gauges have been installed throughout the basin to measure water levels.  This information is beneficial in helping to regulate the level of the lakes.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration presently operates 31 water level gauges on the five Great Lakes, with an additional 18 gauges on the connecting waterways.  The Canadian Hydrographic Service maintains 29 water level gauges on the Great Lakes, and 27 more gauges along the St. Lawrence Seaway.  In addition, several other concerned agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, operate numerous water level gauges all around the Great Lakes Basin.  (Gauthier, 1999)


There have been mathematical relationships generated between the measurements of water levels and the rate of flow within the connecting rivers of the Great Lakes system.  The models are able to generate forecasts of water levels for each lake.  These forecast models fundamentally depend on accurate seasonal variations of weather patterns.  The resulting forecasts are available on the internet at  Three factors affect lake water levels: (1) bulk export of lake water; (2) large scale diversion of water out of the Great Lakes Basin; and (3) climate changes.  The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River study board is undertaking a comprehensive five-year study for the International Joint Commission to assess and evaluate the current criteria used for regulating water levels on Lake Ontario. (LOSL Website; Great Lakes Information Network Website)


Low lake levels are much harder to cope with than high lake levels, since it is difficult to add more water when there is little or none to add.  Ten years ago, the lakes were at record highs.  But, the lower-than-average precipitation and higher-than-average temperatures over the past few years have resulted in a decline.  This fluctuation in lake water levels has a large impact on commercial and recreational shipping and boating.  As a result, the United States Federal Government maintains approximately 70 deep draft harbors and over 750 miles of dredged channels to support navigation.  The depth of the channels and dredging varies with the type of navigational traffic, but typically range from ten feet around recreational boating harbors to over 30 feet in select channels for ocean liners. (Axtman, 2000 and Gauthier, 1999)


Although the decrease in lake levels could create health and economic concerns for the current consumers of lake water, the present low water levels are believed to have resulted from a combination of lower precipitation leading to lower runoff and greater evaporation from higher air temperatures during 1997, 1998, and 1999.  Adam Fox, a hydrologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, places part of the blame on La Nina, a cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean that brings dry hot summers to the Midwest.  La Nina seems to be backing off, which may mean the lakes will return to normal," he says.  (Axtman, 2000)


As presented in Section III, all the lakes are at their lowest levels in the past 35 years and within a foot of record lows set in 1964.  The Lake Superior outflow through the St. Marys River into Lake Huron was approximately five percent below average for September 2001.  Because of continuing low levels in the middle lakes, flows in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers were 15 percent and ten percent below average as of August 2001, respectively.  Flow into the Niagara River from Lake Erie was eight percent below average for August 2001.  Lake Ontario outflow into the St. Lawrence River is currently about eight percent below average and is projected to stay below average through the year. (SOGL, 2001; Kurth, 2002a; Great Lakes Information Network Website)


The receding water levels have caused problems in generating hydroelectric power and resulted in not meeting power supply requirements.  The hydroelectric companies are considering raising rates, for the first time in over six years, due to lack of power generation.  In addition, future pressures surrounding water withdrawals and diversions can result in still further lower water levels. (SOGL, 2001; Kurth, 2002a)


New data shows higher lake levels could be expected in the near future.  Contrary to earlier predictions, water levels are on the rise for 2002.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reported that lake water levels are rising, primarily due to a wet fall and spring.  According to the National Weather Service in Cleveland, precipitation in the Great Lakes region from the fall of 2001 through the spring of 2002 is over seven inches above normal, approximately one-third higher than the seasonal average.  From May 2001 to May 2002, Lake Superior rose over one inch, Lakes Michigan and Huron rose nine inches, Lake Erie rose eight inches, and Lake Ontario rose seven inches.  In addition, the water level in Lake St. Clair is up seven inches since the spring of 2001.  The increase in water levels around the Great Lakes since the spring of 2001 are shown in Figure 7.  If forecasts for a wetter-than-normal summer 2002 materialize, by the end of the season, all the lakes should be at or near average levels again.  In addition, the return of El Nino, which brings heavy rains to the western hemisphere, is forecasted. Therefore, hints of a recovery are still hopeful.  (Quinn, 1988; Kurth, 2002b; Great Lakes Information Network Website)


            Figure 7 – Recent Great Lake water level changes  (back to top)


John Love, a physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit, pointed to "near-record rainfall last October and November, and continued above-average rainfall so far this year."   According to Love, “based on average readings from points along the lake, Lake Erie received six inches of rain in October 2001.  That's below the October record of 7.7 inches, set in 1954, but well above the long-term average of 2.7 inches”.  Precipitation was above normal for November, December, January and February (2001-2002), with the total for those four months and October reaching 18.5 inches.  One computer model indicated that within 50 years water levels could drop up to three feet on some lakes.  That would cause more dredging to clear channels for boats, which would in turn stir-up pollution with contaminated sediment.  (Bonfatti, 2002; Kurth, 2002b; Michigan DEQ Website)


The concern about atmospheric effects is premised on the belief that our modern-day society, utilizing mass daily activity and industrial production, is emitting an ever-increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  This theory is commonly referred to as the “greenhouse effect,” a process in which water vapor and carbon dioxide mix and absorb heat re-radiated by the earth’s surface.  Consequently, this heat is then radiated back toward the earth’s surface at night to keep it warm.  If this theory is correct, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase, then the resulting “greenhouse effect” will cause future climates to be much warmer than today.  A warmer climate generally exhibits more moist conditions, and as a result would increase the rates of evaporation and evapotranspiration within the atmosphere.  This would result in a net decrease in the average lake levels, and studies have shown that the amount of water contributed by each lake would decrease the current lake levels by four to six feet. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


In addition, the connecting rivers and canals that have been dredged to facilitate “deep-draft” shipping have permanently lowered the lake water levels.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering expanding canals, channels, harbors, and locks at every connecting channel within the Great Lakes to allow passage of large ocean-going ships that enter the Great Lakes.  However, the increased cross sectional area of the enlarged channels will increase flow resulting in lower static water levels.  Dredging activities previously performed in the connecting channels and rivers has resulted in a significant impact on lake water levels, even in comparison to natural cyclical fluctuations. (Michigan DEQ Website)


But, as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Lester Graham reported, “not everyone thinks that's such a good idea … an Army Corps of Engineers' draft report indicates the Corps wants to determine the feasibility of dredging and widening connecting channels to allow ships that are 250 feet longer and 30 feet wider than the biggest ship entering the Great Lakes today.”  (Michigan DEQ Website, Great Lakes Radio Consortium Website)

Water diversion

Almost 90 percent of the water diverted is removed directly from the Great Lakes.   Approximately five percent of the water withdrawn from the lakes is estimated to be consumed and is therefore lost to the basin.  Of the water lost for consumptive use, approximately 36 percent goes to Canada and the remaining 64 percent goes to the United States.  The largest Great Lakes water use is irrigation, followed by public water supply, industrial use, and thermoelectric and nuclear uses.  If current trends continue, total water use between now and 2020 is expected to increase around five percent.  In the Canadian portion of the basin, consumption is expected to increase by close to 20 percent, whereas a decrease of about two percent is expected in the United States.  However, the United States’ use is expected to begin rising again after 2020. (Michigan DEQ, 2000)


The outflow from Lake Superior through the St. Marys River is approximately 76,000 cfs per month, but ranges from a low of 40,000 cfs per month to a high of 132,000 cfs per month.  However, the flow from Lake Superior has been completely controlled and regulated by engineers since 1921.  The St. Clair River between Lake Huron and Lake Erie averages 182,000 cfs per month, but ranges from a low of 106,000 cfs per month to a high of 232,000 cfs per month.  The Detroit River, which also flows between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, has an average flow of 186,000 cfs per month, but ranges from a low of 112,000 cfs per month to a high of 203,000 cfs per month.  The Niagara River, which flows between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and encompasses the Niagara Falls, has an average flow of 203,000 cfs per month.  The flow can get as high as 265,000 cfs per month, but can drop down to 115,000 cfs per month when extra water is diverted for hydropower generation.  The flow and diversion volume in the Niagara River is regulated by the 1950 Niagara River Treaty.  This agreement not only regulates the volume of water that must flow over the Niagara Falls daily but the timing and quantity of water diversion for hydropower generation as well. (Gauthier, 1999)


The outflow from Lake Ontario through the St. Lawrence River is approximately  45,000 cubic feet per second and has been regulated by the St. Lawrence Riverboard and the International Joint Commission since 1960.  The International Joint Commission has overall jurisdiction in regulating the flow of water through the St. Lawrence and St. Marys rivers, as agreed between the United States and Canada in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.  However, studies conducted to see if future adjustments of inter-lake flow would make an impact on water levels fluctuation have concluded that future engineered systems would not be a feasible means of controlling lake levels.  Their studies have concluded climate and weather have a much larger impact on water levels than man-made diversions, and that the high cost for engineering controls in Lakes Michigan and Huron can not be justified.  Furthermore, future engineering controls could potentially generate negative environmental impacts.  (Gauthier, 1999; Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


In March 2000, the International Joint Commission released a report that provides a blueprint for protecting the waters of the Great Lakes Basin from the potential impacts of water removals and consumptive uses.  In its report, the International Joint Commission recommended that Canadian and U.S. governments should not permit the removal of water from the Great Lakes Basin unless the requestor can demonstrate that the removal will not endanger the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem.  The requestor would also have to demonstrate that there are no practical alternatives to the removal from the lakes, that sound planning has been applied in the proposal, that cumulative impacts of the removal have been considered, that conservation practices have been implemented, and that the removal results in no net loss of waters to the area from which it is taken. (International Joint Commission Website)


Currently, an Annex to the Water Quality Agreement is being considered to address current issues surrounding water diversion.  This Annex should establish regulations to allow the governments of Canada and the United States to control the diversion of Great Lakes water outside the limits of the Great Lakes Basin.  As stipulated in Section 504 of the Water Resource Development Act, as amended in 2000, no bulk water export or diversions from the basin can occur without the unanimous approval of all the Great Lakes Governors.  A recent International Joint Commission report concluded that water export, especially to the Southwest United States, would be cost-prohibitive when compared to alternative plans since the transportation costs would be excessive.  It also suggests a comprehensive policy for evaluating water diversion proposals, including assurance that no other practical alternative water source exists. (Atkinson, 2001; International Joint Commission Website; Skinner, 2002)


Sediment contamination and transport

Over 2,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline are considered impaired because of sediment contamination.  On the United States side of the border, sediments have been assessed at 26 Great Lakes locations and over 1,300,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments have been remediated over the past few years.  Areas of sediment remediation around the Great Lakes are shown in Figure 8.  Progress in remediating contaminated sediment from the Great Lakes Basin has accelerated since the mid-1990s. (Michigan DEQ, 2000)


                                                                                                Source:  Elster, 2001

            Figure 8 –Great Lakes basin sediment remediation (1999)  (back to top)


Currently over three million cubic yards of contaminated sediment are being remediated throughout the Great Lakes.  That represents a small fraction of the total contamination that needs to be remediated or removed within the basin.  Complete remediation of in-place contaminated sediments along with zero discharge of toxic chemicals to the lakes should be the goal. (Skinner, 2002)


Recent sediment remediation conducted by a variety of authorities has resulted in the removal of large quantities of contaminated sediments.  As a result, the open water sediment concentrations have significantly decreased. In addition, although not conducted for environmental restoration purposes, navigation dredging has removed over 4.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments from Great Lakes.  Contaminated sediments impact virtually every Area of Concern and are a source of continuing pollutant loadings.  The International Joint Commission estimates that over $580 million was spent in 1999 on 38 remediation projects throughout the Basin. (Elster, 2001)


An investment by the Ontario provincial government of $50 million to clean up pollution in the Great Lakes is only a fraction of the amount required.  The funding, which is to be distributed over a five-year period, will be used to clean up contaminated sediment, reduce pollutants and increase the monitoring and reporting of water quality.  Ontario's environment minister, Elizabeth Witmer, said the money will be spent in several areas, including the clean up of contaminated sediment at seventeen sites on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes.  She said the goal is to make the lakes “swimmable again.”  She also said there would be more monitoring and reporting of water quality and the health of fish and wildlife in and around the Great Lakes region.  More than half of the 17 sites targeted by Witmer were scheduled for cleanup by the year 2000.  However, so far only one site has been cleaned up and work is underway on only one more.  (Environment Canada Website)


In addition, Canadian and U.S. government agencies are committed to reduce toxic inputs to the Niagara River.  The governments developed the Niagara River Toxics Management Plan, which calls for 50 percent loadings reductions.  $320 million has already been spent on waste site remediation, and the dollars are still mounting.  Sediment core samples collected from the Niagara River depositional zone in Lake Ontario tell the history of toxic chemical loadings from the Niagara River to Lake Ontario.  Concentrations of many chemicals in these cores have decreased significantly since the 1960s and 1970s, and sediments in the Niagara River are becoming cleaner. (Elster, 2001)


The Great Lakes National Program Office initiated the Assessment and Remediation of Contaminated Sediments Program.  The program was an integrated program for the development and testing of remedial action alternatives for contaminated sediments.  Major findings and recommendations of the Assessment and Remediation of Contaminated Sediments Program included the following: 


·        Use of an integrated sediment assessment approach, incorporating chemical analyses, toxicity testing, and community surveys, is essential to define the magnitude and extent of sediment contamination at a site;

·        Risk assessment and modeling activities are valuable techniques for evaluating the impacts of contaminated sediments;

·        Numerous treatment technologies are effective in removing or destroying sediment contaminants;  and

·        Broad public outreach and education are critical in any sediment assessment and remediation study.


In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is involved in the construction of reservoirs to store stormwater and sewage and reduce the backflow of contaminants during extreme storm events.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also evaluating a land treatment project that includes erosion control, sediment reduction, and nutrient and pesticide management.  Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to produce a sediment transport model that will facilitate land management planning. (Elster, 2001)


Biological and ecological issues

Today, biological pollution is a threat that can affect every portion of aquatic life in the basin.  The continued introduction of invasive species will dramatically impact, and drastically reduce, native fish populations, as well as putting other native species at risk.  Approximately 10 percent of the non-native invasive species have profoundly affected the populations of native wildlife and plant species.  For years, alien species such as the zebra mussel and the round-eyed goby have wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes, pushing out domestic fish by attacking them or significantly altering their habits.  The primary source for aquatic invasive species is ballast water on ships.  In the past 10 years virtually all of the known invasive species have been associated with ballast water in the tanks of oceangoing ships that enter the Great Lakes system via the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Along the St. Lawrence Seaway, studies by Environment Canada suggest aquatic non-native species introduction may be a more serious threat as an upward trend exists in species introduction, averaging one new species per year.  As a result, the International Joint Commission recommended establishing binational ballast water standards, and adoption of a ten-year strategy, to end ship-mediated introduction of invasive species.  In order to protect the lakes from foreign invaders, ships are now required to dump their ballast before entering the seaway.  Under the U.S. Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and the National Invasive Species Act of 1996, travel through the Great Lakes require vessels entering from the sea to either exchange ballast during their ocean voyage or seal ballast tanks for the duration of their stay.   However, there is more than water in the ballast tanks.  At the bottom of the tanks is an unpumpable sludge.  This sludge is not regulated and ships carrying it are regarded as “no ballast on board” vessels.  When these ships unload or take on cargo in the Great Lakes, they use lake water as ballast that gets mixed with the tank slime.  Environmentalists have been calling for regulations to control the slime in ships.  However, no regulations have been passed requiring the removal or treatment of the sludge. (Lafleche, 2002; Gusella, et. al., 2001; SOGL, 2001; Elster, 2001)


The National Invasive Species Act of 1996 provides an intergovernmental mechanism for the development of a cooperative national program to: reduce the risk of or prevent the introduction and dispersal of nonindigenous species nuisances; ensure prompt detection of the presence of and monitor changes in the distribution of nonindigenous species; and control nuisance species in a cost-effective, environmentally sound manner.  The Aquatic Nuisance Species National Task Force, in fulfillment of the requirements of the National Invasive Species Act, emphasize prevention as the key for long-term protection from invasive species.  In February 1999, President Clinton signed an Executive Order to prevent the introduction of invasive species, provide for their control, and minimize the economic, ecological, and human health impacts the invasive species cause.  The order also required the restoration of native species in affected areas and promotion of public education about these species. (Elster, 2001)


Beginning in July 1999, under the Coast Guard published ballast management program, all ships entering the U.S. must tell the Government what they have done to protect American waterways from invading species.  In a move supportive of the Coast Guard measures, the National Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force passed a resolution on April 30, 1999, to accelerate its efforts to eliminate invasive species that enter U.S. harbors through ballast water pumped from ships.  It is hoped that preventing introductions via ballast water will end the potential for new invasive species in the Great Lakes. (Elster, 2001)


Non-native species continue to be a threat and control is a priority issue.  New introductions of nonindigenous species continue today.  Exotic species have done more damage to the ecosystem than have contaminates.  These problems continue to be on going for many years and need to be addressed.  The main problem with exotic, non-native species is that there are no significant predators to keep their population and impact in check.  Current research involves monitoring the ecosystem changes and community response to invading species and examining the ecology of the organisms themselves.  Research also includes laboratory experiments to examine the biological (feeding, development, physiology) and ecological interactions of the invading organisms, including toxicokinetics and bioaccumulation of toxics. (US Environmental Protection Agency Website; SOGL, 1999; Michigan DEQ, 2000)


Due to effective management over the past decade and a half, the sea lamprey has been brought under control and may soon be eradicated.  The attack by both state and federal agencies has been the greatest threat to the sea lamprey, as there are no known natural predators.  Recent efforts have focused on reducing populations in the St. Marys River; the largest uncontrolled sea lamprey population in the Great Lakes Basin.  By applying research results, thousands of male lampreys have been caught, sterilized, and released in key spawning areas to make female eggs infertile.  The female lampreys caught are killed.  In addition, chemical treatments (lampricide) have been applied to computer-targeted larvae infested sediments.  Current data indicates that the lampricide treatment eliminated nearly half the number of larvae that reach maturity in the St. Marys River.  It is anticipated that sea lamprey management will result in the flourishing of lake trout and other top predators in the Great Lakes.  (Henning, 2002; Elster, 2001)


Phytoplankton populations have substantially declined since the late 1980s.  In addition, phytoplankton biomass in Lake Michigan was even lower in the late 1990s than in the 1980s.  The main stressors on phytoplankton are changes to nutrient loads and the expansion of invasive species.  Along with the phytoplankton reduction, the populations of Diporeia, a key component in the food chain, have been declining since the zebra mussels have matured.  In 1998 it was discovered that Diporeia, worms, and fingernail clams densities had declined over fifty percent, primarily in areas located in less than 150-feet of water.  The decline in Diporeia is believed related to food competition with the zebra mussel.  The continued expansion of the zebra mussel and quagga mussel will pose a threat to the existence of the Diporeia.  (SOGL, 2001; Elster, 2001)


In addition, a particular emphasis over the last few years that scientists are examining is the role of the zebra mussel in promoting nuisance blooms of the potentially toxic blue-green algae and the effects of these blooms on the ecosystem.  These blooms are associated with taste and odor problems in drinking water.  The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research is assessing the impacts of harmful algae blooms and eutrophication on coastal ecosystems and habitats by leading a national interagency research program on the ecology and oceanography of harmful algae blooms, coordinating a national harmful algae bloom research and monitoring strategy, and developing new technologies for assessing and monitoring habitat degradation.  The studies focus on developing the means to forecast harmful algae blooms development, persistence, and toxicity; and developing harmful algae bloom prevention, control, and mitigation strategies. (Elster, 2001; Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research Website)


Fish health and fisheries

It has become necessary to maintain a diversity of preyfish species at populations sufficient to match predator demands.  For bottom feeders, it means sustaining stocks of lake whitefish, round whitefish, sturgeon, suckers, and burbot.  It is necessary to suppress the sea lamprey to allow other fish communities to flourish, and achieve a “no net loss” production capacity of habitat.  (SOGL, 2001)


Lake trout are native to all five lakes and the joining rivers.  The main reasons for the trout decline are: over-fishing, non-native invasive species (mainly the sea lamprey), toxic chemical contamination, and, to a lesser degree, development. Since the initiation of sea lamprey control, lake trout are on the rebound as their number has dramatically increased.  Natural reproduction is beginning to spread in Lake Superior, but is very low throughout the other lakes.  The continued success of the lake trout hinges on the following: adequate stocking, ample diet requirements, continued sea lamprey control, restrictive fishing guidelines, and continued elimination of toxic chemicals.  Currently lake trout are naturally reproducing and stocking has been greatly reduced since 1997.  (SOGL, 2001)


Lake sturgeon populations are below historic levels; however, the current trend shows a slight increase.  These fish were once extremely abundant in Great Lake waters and served as an important food source.  These huge fish have suffered a drastic population crash beginning in the mid- to late-1800s, due to a combination of habitat degradation and overexploitation.  Commercial harvesting of lake sturgeon began in earnest in the mid-1800s.  They were harvested for their eggs, which were made into caviar, and for their meat, which was smoked.  Sonic tags have been placed in sturgeon to track and determine their migratory distribution.  In general, the walleye population has rebounded since commercial fishing regulations were introduced.  Walleye numbers are stable, showing a slight increase throughout the lakes and remain substantially above their 1970s level.  The walleye populations should improve when zebra mussel, ruffe, and round gobies are brought under control.  In addition, yellow perch appear to have been naturally spawning successfully since 1998, after a steady decline and low populations were observed beginning in the late 1980s.  The perch decline was seen as a result of reproduction issues in the 1980s. (SOGL, 1999 and 2001; US Geological Survey Website)


Today lake trout, sturgeon, and lake herring survive in significantly reduced numbers and have been replaced by “new” species such as smelt, alewife, splake, and pacific salmon.  The population of yellow perch, walleye, and white bass has recovered somewhat as of late.  Commercial fishing is under continual pressure from several fronts, including sport-fishing groups. As a result, exotic fish stocking, such as salmon, has become popular to support the sport fishing industry. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; SOGL, 2001)


Alewife stocks have not responded as expected following a dramatic reduction in chinook salmon population since the late 1980s.  Alewife and smelt have recently dominated the preyfish population, but remain at lower levels than in previous years.  A reason may be the increased stocking of strong predators, such as trout and salmon, over the past decade.  In addition, the population of lake herring has declined in recent years, and the chub fishery is almost non-existent. (SOGL, 1999 and 2001)


The return of the burrowing mayfly, which had suddenly disappeared in the mid-1950s, has been a bright spot in Great Lakes ecology.  During the past decade, scientists have seen a dramatic revival of the mayfly in Lake Erie.  The mayfly is a large aquatic insect that lives in lake sediments and is an important link in the food chain.  The mayfly is intolerant of pollution and the presence of this insect is a positive indicator that the water quality of the lake has greatly improved.  It has shown a significant recovery in population over the past five years.  The mayfly’s burrowing action re-suspends nutrients necessary for plant growth. (SOGL, 1999 and 2001)


In addition, the rediscovery of deepwater sculpin in Lake Ontario is very promising as well.  Like the burrowing mayfly, the sculpin is plays a key in the food chain by consuming bottom dwelling aquatic insects and microbes and acting as a food source for lake trout and other predatory fish.  Its reappearance is another sign that the lakes recovery is underway.  (Elster, 2001)


The significant decrease in the population of Diporeia, a bottom-dwelling organism, in recent years signifies a major threat to the food chain.  Research data has shown that the abundance of Diporeia has declined from over 100,000 per square foot to approximately 1,100 per square foot from 1980 to 1993.  Diporeia are an important food source for most small fish.  It is believed that the zebra mussel is responsible for the decline.  By 1997, they were not found in many parts of Lake Michigan.  Scientists fear that in 10 to 20 years the lakes may be completely devoid of Diporeia.  A continued analysis of the effects of Diporeia declines on fish populations, and what can be done, is required.   (SOGL, 1999 and 2001)


Urban sprawl and recreation

Human population density and urban sprawl are an indication of how efficient land is being used.  The population of the basin, especially in coastal areas, is expected to grow over the next decade.  Population growth causes an increased demand not only on water supply, but on sewage treatment plants as well, with an increased probability of untreated effluent release.  While most Great Lakes beaches provide safe and enjoyable locations for outdoor recreation and swimming the majority of the time, recent increases in beach advisories have suggested that there is a need to define the cause and extent of beach pollution.  The majority of polluted beaches have high levels of harmful microorganisms, including untreated sewage.  The source of elevated bacterial pathogens appears to be urban stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows from urban areas.  The continued evaluation of beach conditions needs to remain a management priority.  (Skinner, 2002)


Urban sprawl tends to destroy natural habitat and increases runoff of pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants.  Urban sprawl also alters the lake shorelines with cement and other hard surfaces that prevent rainwater from directly replenishing the lakes.  Urban sprawl, along with increased boating, threatens some high-quality natural areas and rare species.  Although boating and water recreation has been a part of life in America for the past century, the current number of registered boats on the lakes is the largest to date.  Boating on the lakes contributes to the overall quality of life for humans, but does play a large role in stressing the ecosystem.  Although the water is rising, boaters should still pay close attention especially near shore.  Over the past five summers, propellers and boat hulls were damaged throughout the Great Lakes as water levels dipped to the lowest levels since the 1960s, and boats came into contact with previously submerged shoals and rocks.  That shouldn’t be a problem in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, since all the lakes have risen since the summer of 2001.  The lake level is an average and people still need to use caution when they're boating, because winds can affect water levels in certain reaches of the lake.  From a fisheries habitat perspective streams and watersheds have been altered by human activities associated with urban sprawl including dam construction, dredging, filling, road construction, and other things that have had major impacts on the quality of the fisheries.  Construction of dams has excluded fish from many tributaries, and many tributaries are now inadequate for life cycle stages.  As an example, Atlantic salmon experienced a population reduction due to dams on tributary streams.  Urban sprawl, like global warming, has no easy solution and may surpass industrial pollution as the leading threat to the Great Lakes.  (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002; Annin and Begley, 1999; Michigan DEQ, 2000; Bonfatti, 2002)

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What needs to be done in the future


The long-term objectives for the Great Lakes Basin are to maintain a safe source of drinking water, a healthy natural ecosystem for fish, wildlife, and humans (with all beaches open for swimming and recreation), and safe consumption of lake fish.  In order to accomplish this, future work is required.  However, the challenges within the Great Lakes Basin are very complex and most are interrelated.  New research, modeling, and technologies must be developed to assess the environmental stresses around the basin and restore the natural ecosystem.  In addition, public involvement is a crucial aspect to the successful restoration and future management of the lakes.  Local leaders need to encourage the public to get involved in the protection and restoration of the lakes. (US Environmental Protection Agency Website)


Effective management of the water resources around the Great Lakes requires the exercise of much jurisdiction, rights, and responsibilities in the interest of all the people of the Great Lakes Region acting in a continuing spirit of community and mutual cooperation.  Concerted activities must be undertaken to adopt regulatory and non-regulatory policies and measures to identify and minimize exposure to toxic chemicals by replacing them with less toxic substitutes; promote the use of cleaner products and technologies; regulate emissions; enforce adequate product labeling and usage limitations; offer economic incentives; and phase-out chemicals that pose unreasonable and unmanageable risks to the environmental ecosystem and human health.  Ultimately, the substances that are toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative, which cannot be adequately controlled, must be “virtually eliminated”. (International Joint Commission priorities for 2001-2003; SOGL, 2001)


The Great Lakes States and Provinces also recognize the need for, and support of, additional research in the area of flows and lake levels required to protect fish and wildlife, navigation, and recreational uses of the Great Lakes system.  Through appropriate state, provincial, federal and international agencies and other institutions, the Great Lakes States and Provinces will encourage coordinated and concerted research efforts in these areas, in order to provide improved information for future water planning and management decisions.  A comprehensive shoreline management plan should also be implemented to help minimize flood and erosion damage along coastlines.  These recommendations should include improving forecasting and emergency preparedness and strengthening information databases for monitoring shorelines and bluffs.  (Gauthier, 1999; International Joint Commission priorities for 2001-2003)


Great Lakes researchers have used mathematical models to synthesize knowledge of the processes and overall system behavior of the Great Lakes.  Models have helped guide research and data collection to fill in gaps in understanding these systems.  Water quality models have been used in research and management efforts in the Great Lakes for the past 40 years.  The main use of hydrodynamic models, and the driving force for further development of such models, is to supply accurate transport and mixing values for water quality models.  Given the contributions that mathematical models have made on Great Lakes research and management, it would be beneficial to apply the current state of modeling in the Great Lakes to future research.  However, computer hardware and software are needed, particularly as models become more complex, are spatially and temporally refined, and are run over longer periods of time.  In general, there is a progression in developing more comprehensive models as technology advances.  Current and future issues that can benefit from models include: contaminated sediments; atmospheric deposition; exotics invasions impacts, toxics cycling and bioaccumulation; global climate change; changes in water levels and water diversion control; ecological impacts of water withdrawals or diversions from waters within the Great Lakes Basin; and the development and interpretation of indicators of ecosystem health and integrity. (DePinto, 2002)


There are several locations around the Great Lakes Basin where testing and data collection are needed to address current concerns.  Research into new and emerging technology in the area of monitoring and surveillance needs to be pursued to enhance data collection and the overall knowledge of the lake basin.  The data gathering should continue to center around fish health, fluctuating water levels, water diversion outside the basin, ecology changes, heavy metals and toxic chemical concentrations, persistent organic chemicals that do not easily degrade, continued introduction of invasive non-indigenous species, and sediment quantity and transport. (Manno and Connerton, 2001)


The potential impact of climate change on the water quality and quantity within the Great Lakes should continue to be evaluated.  With global warming affecting the Great Lakes, particularly nutrient pathways, the current understanding of the plankton community function and structure is not available to management issues into the future.  Further research is required to expand the current knowledge in this area.  Changes induced by global climatic change could impact phytoplankton and zooplankton populations.  Acid precipitation from fossil fuel use, smog from motor vehicle emissions, and ground-level ozone are also areas for continued research.


Any research process should be directed under the guidance of the following four points (Ullrich, 2000):

1)      Information gathering by identifying, to the extent feasible, the full range of sources, both point and non-point, within and outside the basin which release certain selected substances.

2)      Analyze current regulations, initiatives and programs which manage or control substances to assess how existing laws, regulations and programs influence the presence of these substances in the basin and their long-range transport across states, provinces, regions and international borders.

3)      Identify cost-effective options to achieve further reductions by the use of new or modified measures for pollution prevention, which may speed up the pace or increase the level of reductions while taking into account cost effectiveness.

4)      Implement actions to work toward the goal of virtual elimination using cost-effective measures.


The following are remarks by G. Tracy Mehan, III, Chairman of the Michigan Delegation to the Great Lakes Commission, given at the Great Lakes Congressional Breakfast on March 15, 2001 to outline the direction of future activities (Mehan, 2001):


1. Cleaning up toxic hot spots: It is essential that the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our waters be restored.  The best place to start is by restoring beneficial uses at  31 of the binational Areas of Concern.  In addition, an emphasis must be placed on reducing toxic substances, particularly persistent and bioaccumulative substances.  Ideally, further reductions will lead to the virtual elimination of these substances.


2. Shutting the door on invasive species: Invasive species represent a growing and potentially devastating threat to the region's economy and environment.  There are now 160 such pests in the Great Lakes system, with the potential for more.  The problem manifests itself locally, but the solution must be regional, national and international in scope - as they spread quickly.  State, Provincial, and Federal partnerships are essential, and sensitivity to a region's unique needs must be recognized in any new programs or legislation.  Research is needed on how to minimize these introductions and on how to contain species that have dormant eggs and spores that are not removed by ballast water changes.


3. Controlling diffuse, non-point source pollution: The quality of our water is largely a function of our land stewardship practices and unwise practices that generate diffuse runoff, or nonpoint source pollution.  This is particularly damaging because it degrades the environment and compromises the economic value of the region.  We have largely controlled pollution from the discharge pipes, but progress must be made with nonpoint sources.


4. Restoring and conserving wetlands and critical coastal habitat: Only a fraction of the wetlands and coastal marshes in the region have survived to date, and their restoration and protection is essential.  In addition to providing a tremendous recreational value to the region, they provide critical fish and wildlife habitat, prevent shoreline erosion, and help store and cycle nutrients.  Managers must maintain stable and diverse populations of native plants and prevent the introduction and spread of exotic species.


5. Ensuring the sustainable use of our water resources: It is imperative that the Great Lakes States and Provinces, in partnership with the federal governments, develop and implement the programs needed to ensure that our water resources are managed for environmentally sound and sustainable use.


6. Strengthening our decision support capability: Policy and management decisions are only as good as the science behind them, and we've witnessed a steady erosion of support for research, data gathering, and monitoring over the last 25 years.  We need to recognize this trend and think in new and creative ways to deal with it.


7. Enhancing the commercial and recreational value of our waterways: If we're serious about sustainable use, we need to focus on this region's rich heritage of water-based commercial and recreational activity.  Policy makers need to promote improved land use practices.  In addition, studies show that waterway transportation on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence System is preferable to rail and over the road options from environmental, fuel efficiency and safety standpoints.


Toxic chemical loading

The continued presence of persistent toxic substances, primarily associated with releases from various industrial processes, releases from non-point sources, releases from contaminated sediments, atmospheric deposition, and the cycling of naturally-occurring substances within the Great Lakes continues to be a hot topic among concerned citizens.  The potential risk to human health from these toxic contaminants can increase the presence of cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations through long-term exposure.  Long-term, low-level exposure to toxic pollutants is also an area of concern, as extensive research and information on this topic does not exist.  To protect and ensure the health and integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem, these toxic exposures need to be analyzed, and a goal of elimination should be achieved through a variety of programs and actions.  However, the primary emphasis initially should be on pollution prevention.


 In addition, there has been growing public concern about toxic pollutants that may produce non-cancerous health effects in wildlife and humans, including reproductive and hormonal disruptions along with learning disabilities.  Therefore, unacceptable levels of PCBs, methyl mercury, toxaphene, and other persistent and bioaccumulative toxins require the continued issuance of fish consumption advisories which in turn adversely affects the economic, and psychological, potential of the region, especially the fishery industry.


The “unfinished business” of virtually eliminating persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes Basin remains a significant challenge.  To contribute to the resolution of this problem, more strategic and coordinated interventions are required at various geographic scales, from the local watershed (Area of Concern) to the lakewide, basinwide, national, and international arenas.  To that end, Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will continue to work in cooperation with their public and private partners toward the goal of virtual elimination.  An underlying tenet of this is that the federal governments cannot, by their actions alone, achieve the goal of virtual elimination.  All sectors of society are challenged to participate and cooperate to ensure success.  The goal of virtual elimination will be achieved through a variety of programs and actions, but the primary emphasis will be on pollution prevention.  Both Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believe that pursuing a long-term, phased strategy through prevention where possible, and remediation when necessary, is a common sense practical approach to achieving environmental objectives.  However, they must be committed to an open, interactive, public participation process which includes issuing regular progress reports to the public.  Different criteria for allowable or legal amounts of toxic chemicals in the lakes amongst the different agencies have led to confusion, as well as the reduced credibility of elected officials and so-called “experts” on public safety and protection.  Therefore, universal standards must be generated and adhered to by all affected governments. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997; Flint, 1989; Ullrich, 2000)


As previously reported in Section II, the State of the Great Lakes reports list some 80 indicators identified as adequate representation of the ecosystem health.  Currently 33 have enough information to properly assess their status.  However, over half of the indicators have not been fully developed and/or tested. Many of the indicators are categorized in six major groups: human health, open and nearshore waters, coastal wetlands, land and land use, societal, and unbounded.  Further work and specific research will be required since many of the indicators do not have an established target or endpoint.  Until adequate information is available and target levels are provided, assessing the associated areas of the ecosystem represented by those indicators will be difficult and poor quality data will lead to erroneous conclusions about the environment. (SOGL, 1999 and 2001)


To help facilitate the future implementation of these indicators, the suggested three tier grouping recommendation should be considered.  The recommendation suggests that the 33 current indicators, along with ten others, will make up Tier 1.  Tier 2 indicators will be made up of the remaining indicators that do not have any data currently available, but for which data collection is underway.  Tier 3 will consist of all future indicators, along with the remaining current indicators for which data does not exist and programs have not yet been established.  (SOGL, 2001)


In addition, groundwater is another pathway for toxic pollutants.  As water moves through the ground it accumulates dissolved materials that were either buried or seeped into the ground and migrated downward.  Because treatment of groundwater is difficult and often expensive, banning and elimination is the best approach to prevent contamination.  (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Skinner, 2002)


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has targeted a list of persistent toxic substances which includes: mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, and furans.  In July 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened standards for controlling hazardous air pollutants such as dioxin and lead emitted from incinerators, cement kilns, and lightweight aggregate kilns.  Consequently, dioxin, furan, mercury, and metal emissions at these facilities will be reduced.  Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that the following challenges be met by 2006 (Elster, 2001):


1.      a 75 percent reduction in total releases of dioxins and furans from sources resulting from human activities;

2.      a 50 percent reduction nationally in the deliberate use of mercury and a 50 percent reduction in the release of mercury from sources;

3.      a reduction in the release of hexachlorobenzene and benzo(a)pyrene (residential wood combustion, as wood stoves and fireplaces account for almost 50 percent of the benzo(a)pyrene emissions); and

4.      a 90 percent reduction nationally of high-level PCBs used in electrical equipment.  Many utilities continue to phase down PCB transformers and capacitors. 


These mandates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be insisted upon.  In addition, Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must continue to take steps and challenge each other to eliminate the generation and release of certain substances, along with ensuring the proper disposal of substances.  Substances to be eliminated include:

1)      Bioaccumulative pesticides such as chlordane, aldrin/dieldrin, DDT, mirex, and toxaphene, along with methyl mercury, octachlorostyrene and other industrial byproducts. 

2)      Alkyl-lead used in automotive gasolines and other sources such as aviation fuel, contributing to high atmospheric lead levels.

3)      High-level PCBs (greater than 500 parts per million) used in electrical equipment (i.e. transformers, capacitors, etc.), manufacturing facilities, steel mills, smelting facilities, and commercial buildings.

4)      Mercury use and emissions.

5)      All dioxins, furans, hexachlorobenzene, and similar agents.


To meet the above challenges, Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should implement the four-step framework outlined previously, and regularly reassess progress being made.  Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should enlist support from local municipalities, industries, product manufacturers and others to assist in meeting these challenges, especially for those substances entering the basin from long-range sources.  (Ullrich, 2000)


During the past three decades, chemical pollution research studies have focused on selected pollutants that are toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulate.  However, more than 100 chemicals are brought to market each year.  Many of these new chemicals and entire new classes are toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulate and fall in the categories of polychlorinated naphthalenes, brominated fire retardants, perfluorinated organics, alkyl phenols, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.  Research needs to be expanded to study these chemicals and their potential effects on the ecosystem.  In addition, many of the existing indicators do not have an associated endpoint; therefore, specific research is needed until an appropriate endpoint is clearly defined. (International Joint Commission Priorities for 2001-2003; SOGL, 2001)


There is still an urgent need to gain further insight on precisely how toxic chemicals move through the ecosystem (on land, in air, and in water).  Atmospheric deposition of toxics is now paramount in the Great Lakes ecosystem.  Atmospheric loading of toxic chemicals is likely to continue into the future.  Therefore, control of atmospheric inputs must be improved.  Also, additional information is needed on the non-point pollution sources within the Great Lakes Basin, including the long-range transport by the atmosphere and groundwater.  Because treatment of groundwater is difficult and often expensive, banning and elimination is the best approach to prevent contamination.  Pollutants that enter the lakes, whether by direct discharge, through tributaries, from land and/or the atmosphere, are retained in the ecosystem for many years and their concentrations increase with time.  Because many pollutants tend to persist for a long time in the environment, their detection levels must continue to be reduced.  Adequate due diligence toward controlling all sources of contaminants will assist in achieving the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; SOGL, 2001; Skinner, 2002)


Water levels

The lakes rely on large volumes of water inflow during the winter months to maintain water levels.  The predicted warmer weather over the next 50 years would mean an increase in evaporation rates which, combined with less precipitation, will result in significantly lower lake water levels.  The lower levels will also have a large impact not only on the ecosystem, but on the regional economy as well, since lower water levels mean cargo ships must carry lighter loads, less water can be diverted for hydropower generation, and beaches and harbors need to be adjusted.  This could make it possible for contaminated sediments to be disturbed and stirred-up.  It is time for the governments of Canada and the United States to focus in on this, since climate change is believed to force lake levels down in the future.  The winter of 2001 was the warmest on record around Lake Ontario and it is feared Lakes Michigan and Huron, considered the most at risk, could drop by as much as a 30 inches over the next 25 to 40 years.  So, researchers should concentrate on a wide range in lower water levels, and the recent drought conditions, rather than only on the high lake levels of the past two decades when developing future models. (Annin and Begley, 1999; US Environmental Protection Agency Website)


Lake freighters can no longer travel fully loaded because of lower water levels.  The reason for the dramatic drop in lake levels are low precipitation during the winter months and warmer air temperatures that increase evaporation rates.  According to hydrologist Frank Quinn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “By 2050 global warming could drop water levels in Lakes Huron-Michigan by six feet and Lake Erie by four feet.” And according to Michael Donahue, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, “It is very clear that we will have a pronounced lowering of lake levels over the next 50 years.” (Annin and Begley, 1999)


As mentioned earlier in Section III, water diversion sights (including LongLak, Ogaki, and around Niagara Falls) have contributed to controlling the water levels around the Great Lakes.  These diversions should be monitored carefully, and appropriate modifications taken and adjustments made, to insure and maintain proper water levels within the Great Lakes.


Water diversion

A major issue currently being debated is the diversion of water outside the Great Lakes watershed basin.  This is an important and time sensitive issue, and needs to be addressed and resolved.  Given the water level and future use concerns, the water within the basin needs to be conserved and used within the basin so it can be returned, recycled, and re-used.  With the growth of human population, and the inevitable urban sprawl, the need for fresh water could reach crisis level.   If water is allowed outside the basin, it will never be recovered or used again within the basin.  Therefore, extensive studies need to be conducted prior to issuance of a decision to allow water diversion, distribution, or export outside the basin area.


The International Joint Commission recommends that, in order to avoid endangering the integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem, the governments should not approve any proposal for a major new or increased consumptive use of water from the Great Lakes Basin unless full consideration has been given to its potential cumulative impacts, and unless effective conservation practices are implemented, sound planning practices applied, and that all waters returned meet the objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  Moreover, the report recommends that governments apply a number of specific conservation measures to significantly improve efficiencies in the use of water in the Great Lakes Basin, including the setting of water prices at a level that encourages conservation. (International Joint Commission Website)


Because there is uncertainty about the availability of Great Lakes water to meet all ecosystem needs, including human needs, over the long term, the International Joint Commission concludes that water should be managed with caution to protect the resource for the future.  The International Joint Commission also concludes that international trade law obligations, including the provisions of the North America Free Trade Agreement and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, do not prevent Canada and the United States from taking measures to protect their water resources and preserving the integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem so long as there is no discrimination against individuals from other countries in the application of those measures.  The report also recommended a two year moratorium on all new water removal applications and suggested that government agencies "exercise caution" in cases where current users request to increase consumption.  The governments need to restore their ability to manage this resource for environmental and economic prosperity. As mentioned earlier in Section III, according to the Water Resource Development Act, amended in 2000, no bulk water export or diversions from the basin can occur without the unanimous approval of all the Great Lakes Governors. (International Joint Commission Website)


On the basis of its findings, the International Joint Commission also recommends that federal, provincial and state governments should move quickly to remedy deficiencies in water use data; implement long-term comprehensive monitoring programs to detect threats to ecosystem integrity; conduct more extensive studies of the role of groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin; and undertake research on the individual and cumulative impacts of water withdrawals. (International Joint Commission Website)


The International Joint Commission also recommends that both governments use and build on existing institutions to implement the International Joint Commissions recommendations, and that the governments should develop standards and procedures for removals increased consumptive uses.  Federal, State, and Provincial governments should not authorize or permit any new consumptive use until these standards have been promulgated.  States and provinces should also build on the Great Lakes Charter by developing a broader range of consultation procedures than currently exist. (International Joint Commission Website)


Sediment contamination and transport

Great Lakes National Program Offices Sediment Assessment and Remediation Team recommends that these following goals be focused on in the future to address the contaminated sediment problem in the Great Lakes(USEPA Website on contaminated sediment; Skinner, 2002):


1.      expand the list of Great Lakes sites requiring assessment and possible remediation by looking to sites outside of Areas of Concern;

2.      develop and promote new and innovative techniques for assessing contaminated sediments;

3.      build a strong partnership of committed, cooperative individuals and organizations;

4.      be creative and innovative in securing financial resources for sediment projects;

5.      strive to make remedial designs not only effective, but also efficient and practical;

6.      facilitate the communication of successful remedial activities to other groups and partnerships both in the Great Lakes Basin and elsewhere; and

7.      strive to complete three sediment remediation areas per year until all known sites in the Great Lakes are addressed, hopefully by 2025.


In the near future, several major contaminated sediment cleanups are planned, including the removal of 700,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward with a comprehensive Dredge Material Management Plan that will dredge approximately 250,000 cubic yards of polluted material, beginning late 2002 or early 2003. (Elster, 2001)


Although the overall cost associated with removing contaminated sediment is very high, it is probably the best action from a management perspective, especially in areas where sediment contaminant and disturbing factors are very high.  Between erosion, strong storm events, and resuspension, from ship and boat activities, too much contaminated sediment will be stirred-up and released.  However, in less contaminated and disturbed areas, removal of the contaminated sediment is ill advised.  It is best to leave the existing sediment in-place and wait for clean material to cover it over in time.  It should be ensured that this sediment is sufficiently buried and will not be disturbed at all. (SOGL, 1999; Elster, 2001)


Another twist in contaminated sediment research has been the postulation of these sediments as being a generator of toxic chemicals.  As recently as May 2002, scientists and engineers aboard an environmental research vessel in the Great Lakes have postulated a theory that the lower lakes, and Lake Michigan as well, are not only a receptor of pollutants, but possibly a generator as well.  The researchers believe that pollutants in the lakes, particularly in lake sediment(s), are being dissolved in the lake water and percolating to the free surface.  The pollutants are then being carried back to land via the air.  The data collected by the researchers needs to be evaluated and analyzed to confirm the theory.  The testing should reveal whether or not the lakes are generating air pollution.  More research, and testing, is necessary to ensure existing indicators are properly assessed and to address related health concerns along with disease and birth defect prevention.   (SOGL, 1999 and 2001; Thompson, 2002)


Biological and ecological issues

Biologists must continue to study how organisms respond to natural and human-induced changes in the environment and, in turn, how organisms influence the lakes and oceans in which they live.  Research ranges from field investigations of life history behaviors, including the abundance and distribution of both native and exotic species, to controlled laboratory experiments using cultured organisms.  Researchers also need to study basic fish biology and ecology to determine how reproductive behavior and physiological responses to stress can be applied to fishery management.  In addition, molecular techniques must be employed in conjunction with standard physiological and ecological methods in order to understand the role and diversity of microorganisms involved in the cycling of gases and inorganic and organic compounds in the natural environment. (Center for Great Lakes Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Website)


Biogeochemical research needs to be undertaken to study chemical cycling among living and non-living components within the ecosystem.  Another major thrust in research efforts has been to understand geochemical processes occurring in lakes, both their influence on water quality and their effect on the structure and function of ecosystems.  This includes long-term global and regional fluctuations of basic elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, as well as molecular scale interactions.  Biogeochemists seek to understand the dynamics of biological and chemical interactions and the rates at which both natural and man-made materials move between components within the lakes and the interfaces of land, air, and sediments. (Center for Great Lakes Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) 


The Great Lakes suffer from all kinds of pollution, but among the most dangerous pollutants from industrial waste are mercury, cadmium, and zinc.  Researchers at Ohio State University are perfecting a way to clean up those heavy metals - using algae.  The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Bill Cohen explains (Great Lakes Radio Consortium Website):


Picture using algae as a sponge. The one-cell plants attach themselves to the polluting metals…you pull them out of the water…squeeze out the metals in an acid solution…. and re-use the algae sponge 30 times.  Researcher Richard Sayre has genetically altered the algae to sop up more pollution than ever:   "We've improved their ability to sequester and bind these heavy metals by a factor of five."  Sayre stresses - the algae itself would not be put into the lakes free-floating, and it won't even be living.  "The metal-binding capacity is about three times greater when they're dead than when they're alive."


Exotic weeds and algae blooms are among the latest problems affecting lake coastlines.  The growth is becoming so dense along some shorelines that it is impossible to conduct recreational activities.  The reason, and affect, of these algae blooms needs to be determined and appropriate remediation activities determined.


New research by the University of Windsor has concluded what many environmental scientists have suspected for years -- invasive species are hiding in the slime and sludge found at the bottom of ballast tanks on ships traveling the Great Lakes.  Sarah Bandoni, a researcher at the University's Great Lakes Institute, said she has discovered that the microscopic eggs of tiny water-borne creatures can survive the harsh conditions of the ballast tanks for long periods.  She found that the eggs of creatures such as waterfleas would remain dormant until fresh water is added to the sludge.  When lake water is added to ballast tanks, the water conditions are right and the eggs hatch.  When the ballast is dumped the critters are released to the lake water and are free to roam throughout the Great Lakes.  Bandoni's research, shows there is a potential for a foreign animal to rise from the sludge and invade the lakes.  In addition, researchers at two American universities are testing the ballast slime for bacteria and other organisms that might find their way into the lakes.  It is essential that entry mechanisms be closely monitored, and effective safeguards be implemented. (Lafleche, 2002; SOGL, 2001)


The Great Lakes are constantly being invaded by non-indigenous species.  The bio-diversity and ecological integrity of the lakes are at risk.  The International Joint Commission recommends a joint effort by both governments to prevent on-going occurrence of alien introduction.  The continued introduction of invasive species will dramatically impact, and drastically reduce, native fish populations, as well as putting other native species at risk.  Therefore, the International Joint Commission recommended establishing binational ballast water standards, to end ship-mediated introduction of invasive species.  The initial response of the governments was new legislation managing ballast water exchange.  However, recent research has shown that ballast water exchange alone is not sufficient to mitigate invasive species introduction.  Therefore, it is imperative to develop improvements in the design of ballast systems allowing for either improved exchange or treatment of the water.  Four options suggested that should be given priority consideration are: water filtering; nonoxidizing biocides; heat; and retrofitting or redesign of ballast systems to allow safe and effective exchange. (Elster, 2001)


Allegra Cangelosi, senior policy analyst with the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington, D.C., said that because invasive species are still getting into the Great Lakes waters from residual ballast water and on hulls, sea chains and anchors, that he is attacking the problem by using very fine water filters, potent biocides such as ultraviolet light and other preventive measures to curtail the threat of future invasions, and eliminate the threat of current invasions.  The Aquatic Nuisance Task Force estimates that the zebra mussel alone costs municipalities and industries about $360,000 a year and nuclear power plants $825,000 annually.  Therefore, strict guidelines for ship ballast exchange need to be implemented and compliance should be rigorously enforced. (Elster, 2001; Gusella, et. al., 2001)


If climate change occurs as currently predicted, one concern is the probable increase in exotic species due to warmer waters.  As depicted by the colder water found in Lake Superior, invasive species such as the zebra mussel and round goby have virtually been kept out of the lake.  It has been postulated that higher water temperatures could be an invitation for more alien species to acclimate to lake waters and would decimate the existing cold-water life, especially plankton, naturally found within the Great lakes.  Research has shown that plankton has descended almost 25 feet deeper to reach the cold water they thrive in.  However, since less light penetrates to the lower depths, the plankton can not grow as abundantly.  Therefore, less food is available for the fish and other creatures that consume it.  This could lead to a collapse of the entire food chain. (Annin and Begley, 1999)


Fish health and fisheries

Lake trout were historically the top native predator fish in the Great Lakes.  Overfishing and predation by the sea lamprey caused the disappearance.  Lake trout are now reproducing at a rate that does not require additional stocking.  In addition, the burrowing mayfly (Hexagenia), an insect that is important prey food for many fish, suddenly disappeared presumably because of pollution and dissolved oxygen depletion.  However, the last 5 years has seen a remarkable recovery in mayfly populations, approaching historic abundance.  In April 1998, a Lake Ontario deepwater sculpin was captured.  Sculpins are an important link in the food chain, eating bottom-dwelling invertebrates and, in turn, being eaten by lake trout.  Discoveries of deepwater sculpin in Lake Ontario provide hope for the recovery of this species, that was thought to be eliminated, and assisting the recovery of other species, including Atlantic salmon and lake sturgeon.  These are many recent signs that a general recovery of the lake’s native fish community is under way, however, stocking of many species is necessary.  The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started the Great Lakes Initiative in 1998 to restore native fish (lake trout, coaster book trout, and lake sturgeon).  Wisconsin lake sturgeon is one of the two self-sustaining populations of lake sturgeon in Lake Superior.  Coaster brook trout were once abundant in the upper Great Lakes, but were depleted by fishing and introduced species.  In 1997, reproduction of coaster brook trout was documented for the first time since reintroduction.  Coho and chinook salmon limit alewife populations and do not create self-sustaining populations,  and therefore require stocking.  In 1996, a large population of native clams was discovered, one of the few populations that survived the negative effects of zebra mussels, that will be crucial to the future restoration of clams.  These are many signs that a general recovery of the lake’s native fish community is under way.  The Great Lakes States must continue to coordinate fish contaminant monitoring programs through the council of Great Lakes Governors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Elster, 2001)


Urban sprawl and recreation

Problems can develop in areas near pollution sources after a heavy rainfall or when a sewage treatment plant malfunctions.  Heavy rainfall, causing sewer overflows, and requiring the discharge of untreated sewage from pump stations is a major concern.  Combined sewer overflows in urban areas regularly pour raw sewage directly into lake water.  Beach advisories and closings in the U.S. are generally due to elevated levels of indicator organisms that may indicate the presence of disease-causing microorganisms.  Recreational water users are at risk of infection from water-borne pathogens through ingestion or inhalation of contaminated water or through contact with the water.  There is a need for stronger beach monitoring programs and broader public guidance relating to the use of recreational waters.  The Great Lakes National Program Office has been conducting annual surveys of beach closings for the 582 recognized beaches along the U.S. coast of the Great Lakes.  Approximately 20 percent of the beaches experienced a period of closure.  The most desirable solution to protect public health is to eliminate the need for beach closings through the effective control of pollution sources.  One means of potential control is increasing the number of sewage treatment plants in operation.  But until that time, officials must continue to increase and improve the means for monitoring water quality and informing the public. Protection of human health is of paramount importance.  Much more work is to be done to achieve the goal of a Great Lakes ecosystem where there are no limits on the fish we eat, and no concerns regarding the water we drink and use for recreational purposes. Human health is directly influenced by the state of the surrounding ecosystem.  Air and water quality, as well as fish consumption, are important to the quality of life around the basin.  (Elster, 2001)


Loss of coastal wetlands still occurs in some areas.  Extensive development of cottages and homes, as well as marinas and beaches, has resulted in the loss of wetland and forested areas.  Wetlands serve a variety of important functions in that they protect shorelines from erosion, store flood waters with their dense vegetation, and trap sediments that can pollute waterways among other things.  Residential and commercial areas are expanding.  Urban sprawl has resulted in developments being situated on or near the shores of the Great Lakes or their tributaries.  The resulting shoreline alterations have led to changes in shoreline deposition and erosion processes.  This has had an effect on lake levels and changes to the natural weather patterns, which /were discussed earlier in this report.  Therefore, land use decisions continue to impact the quality of the Great Lakes ecosystem.  Although nearly 11,000 acres of wetlands have been restored so far through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wetlands Reserve Program, much more work is needed. (Michigan DEQ, 2000; Elster, 2001; Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


The adverse effects to wetlands from dredging, draining, pollution of sediments, hydrologic impacts and water level management have contributed to the degradation of Great Lakes water quality.  Encroachment on the Great Lakes shoreline by agriculture, recreation, industry and urban sprawl has become an adverse factor for Great Lakes coastal habitat.  Around urban areas, automobile-related fluids, asbestos, salts, cadmium, lead, oils and greases regularly find their way to lake tributaries and contribute to lake pollution.  Surface runoff also includes bacteria, viruses, nutrients, and a variety of toxic substances such as pesticides, fertilizers, etc.  Future habitat and human health protection and restoration need to be implemented to deter continued habitat loss.  Over the next decade, environment experts expect increasingly tough choices to emerge between the competing needs and uses of water.  Future land use must strike a balance between economic and environmental interests.  Protection, restoration, and enhancement activities of these wetlands needs to be conducted and should be a priority.  The future of the wetlands is dependent upon striking this balance. (Elster, 2001; Michigan DEQ, 2000)

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Develop a system on how to gather the information and where to keep it

Database of Information

The demand for pertinent data to describe and analyze the environmental state of the Great Lakes Basin has been increasing for the past quarter century.  The United States and Canada have spent billions of dollars to improve the overall quality of the lake waters.  No single organization has the resources or expertise to fully examine all aspects of the Great Lakes.  As a result, dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals routinely collect, analyze and report information and data.  A system of information gathering, and more importantly storage, that can be used to expand the current knowledge of the physical, chemical, biological, and ecological dynamics of the Great Lakes Basin must be implemented.  This system, once in place, will ensure that the collected data and information is readily at hand while minimizing overlap and optimizing the use of funds.  A consensus on the data necessary to adequately describe the state of the lakes will greatly facilitate future monitoring and reporting programs.  (SOGL, 2001; Skinner, 2002)


Most, if not all, of the agencies collecting data about the Great Lakes make use of some form of electronic database management system.  Information needs to be stored, readily available, reliable, and shared effectively among partners.  Managing all the data gathered is not a simple task.  A systematic approach to identify, organize, maintain, and disseminate all technical and related data acquired and/or developed should be implemented.  Multiple agencies collect, analyze, and store information pertaining to the Great Lakes.  These numerous agencies and disciplines gather information and collect data for various purposes around the Great Lakes, on both sides of the border.  All data collected by any and all agencies, both public and private, along with associated information, needs to be submitted to this system.  This data and information must be technically reviewed by the submitting organization prior to submittal to ensure accuracy.  For researchers to make effective use of vast quantities of stored data, they need more information about data content.  The ability of scientists to make use of these large data sets will depend on the ability to access and manage data intelligently and efficiently.  In addition, poor quality data can result in erroneous conclusions about the environment or ecosystem and misguided management decisions.  (Newbury, 1997; SOLEC, 1996)


Various amounts of data regarding the Great Lakes have been collected at great expense, but it is worthless if it is not accessible.  Because technology is changing at such a rapid rate, data saved on a particular system one year may quickly become inaccessible if the technology changes and the data stored are not upgraded to the new system.  Until the data are converted to the new system, they cannot be accessed.  Considerable data have been stored on old backup tapes that can no longer be read by today’s computer systems.  In addition, it is not uncommon for databases to have been lost or misplaced over the years, especially when a department was reorganized or key personnel retired or left.  These methods of data management make it very difficult to keep track of information sources, even within departments, let alone within the Great Lakes community. (SOLEC, 1996)


Standards and guidelines are necessary to ensure quality and consistency of data.  The challenge is to develop a set of standards that provide the guidance necessary to ensure homogeneity and accuracy of data while allowing enough flexibility for individuality of a study.  A meta-database consisting of an indexing system of various numbers, informative description write-ups, reference information pertaining to data developed, and associated spatial relationships necessary to the enhancement of the Great Lakes Basin is the key component to that systematic approach.  The metadata entry typically includes some or all of the following:

·        Title

·        Author

·        Originator

·        Date

·        Description or Abstract

·        Subject List

·        Data

·        Availability

·        Point of Contact


In addition, it is important that the numeric data and associated information be accessible electronically and, where possible, summarized for ease of use.  Also, the meta-database should be controlled and managed to facilitate the traceability and accuracy for use by all interested parties.  This system will provide a “one stop” source for current and correct technical information that will expedite locating “recommended” values for use in future design.  The system should include the following (Newbury, 1997; SOLEC, 1996):


1.      Creating and maintaining standards for collecting data,

2.      Documenting/cataloguing the data,

3.      Storing/archiving data,

4.      Accessing data,

5.      Integrating data,

6.      Securing and protecting data,

7.      Stewardship of data, and

8.      Providing methods for disseminating the data.


The meta-database must also catalog all inputted data.  This way, all data that supersedes previous data, or is superseded by new data, or is redundant, will easily be identified.  All submitted data and associated information will be issued a unique tracking number.  This number should include links to the originating party.  In addition, a verification and review process for all submitted data should be established prior to user access. (Newbury, 1997)


An individual should be assigned to each of the government and private research facilities and laboratories to interface with the scientists and engineers collecting and/or developing the data to ensure all data and information is incorporated into the meta-database.  However, this individual can be assigned to multiple locations within a region and should be trained and technically qualified to organize, and possibly summarize, the data and information being submitted.  In addition, custodians should be appointed for the long-term maintenance of that data. (Newbury, 1997; SOLEC, 1996)


The challenge is to provide access to information independent of the type of software or operating system used.  In a perfect world, all agencies would store and maintain their information in common formats that could easily be transferred and integrated.  This, however, will likely never be the case.  The internet provides seamless access to information through the use of hyperlinks.  The internet could be used as a means of finding information about all Great Lakes data and even of accessing those databases, since files can be downloaded directly. (SOLEC, 1996)


The Appendix section of this report, Section VII, presents a list of the various organizations and agencies with information related to Great Lakes research.  In addition to the names of each organization, contact information is also presented.  The contact information includes telephone numbers, fax numbers, Website address, e-mail addresses, and mail addresses.  The Great Lakes Information Network Agency is already using the internet to link data and information that could be used as a basis for a main system. (SOLEC, 1996)



·        U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has promulgated standards for municipal waste and medical waste incinerators, cement kilns, and chlorine production to reduce mercury emission

·        Restore or construct new fish and wildlife habitats by 2005.

·        Implement sea lamprey barriers along tributaries by 2005.

·        Restore, enhance, or reconstruct tens of thousands of acres of coastal and inland wetlands around the basin by 2010.

·        Implement management plans for publicly owned land around the Great Lakes to ensure adequate access by everyone.

·        By 2010, substantially reduce the introduction of invasive species, both aquatic and terrestrial, to the Great Lakes ecosystem.  This should include ensuring all vessels entering the Great Lakes comply with ballast water management standards.  In addition, investigate other pathways such as bait fish, ornamental plants, recreational boats and others.

·        By 2007, reduce concentrations of PCBs in lake trout and walleye by 25 percent.

·        By 2010, 90 percent of Great Lakes beaches will be open 95 percent of the season.

·        By 2010, restore or enhance 100,000 acres of wetlands in the Basin.

·        By 2010, substantially reduce the further introduction of invasive species, both aquatic and terrestrial, to the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.

·        Accelerate the pace of sediment remediation, leading to the clean-up of all sites by 2025.

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Water is indispensable to life.  Fortunately, it is a renewable resource and the Great Lakes system is the largest fresh water basin on the planet.  As trustees of the Basin's natural resources, the Great Lakes States and Provinces have a shared duty to protect, conserve, and manage the renewable but finite waters of the Great Lakes Basin for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of all their citizens, including generations yet to come.  The restoration and protection of the Great Lakes ecosystem is a massive undertaking, but we know enough about the region to adequately reduce the environmental contamination and remediate the highly affected areas.  The most effective means of protecting, conserving, and managing the water resources of the Great Lakes is through the joint pursuit of unified and cooperative principles, policies, and programs mutually agreed upon, enacted and adhered to by each and every Great Lakes State and Province. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Flint, 1989; Skinner, 2002)


The protection of the Great Lakes requires a great deal of information and understanding of past misuses and problems, the corrective actions taken, and the resulting effects of both problem and resolution.  An understanding of environmental damage resulting from human use/abuse of the natural resources around the lakes has developed from the research and monitoring established by the citizens and governments of both countries.  While many of today's environmental issues are complex (i.e. the impact of persistent toxic substances on health, water level fluctuations, water diversion and usage, sediment contamination and transport, invasions of non-native species, fish health, climate and air impacts, and shoreline and watershed development), more active involvement by the people and governments of the Great Lakes community is essential.  While governments do, and should, have primary responsibility to restore the environmental quality of the Great Lakes, it is everyone’s responsibility to help make it happen and to evaluate the progress.  Central to the success is the advice and insight provided not only to the public, but from the public as well.  The general public has played, and with continued encouragement will play, a major role in the reclamation and restoration of the basin.  The cooperation and commitment by the people of both Canada and the United States will prevent current issues from becoming worse, but more importantly can protect the future of the lakes. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Flint, 1989; Skinner, 2002)


The importance of citizen knowledge of, and participation in, issues of environmental significance cannot be overstated.  Disseminating information to the public needs to be a priority.  The Internet has proven to be an excellent tool to increase public access to Great Lakes environmental information.  Providing the public with this information is an extremely important step in improving our nation’s water quality and protecting the health of the American public.  Therefore, the public as a whole needs reliable information about the hazards associated with continued exposure to certain chemicals.  Communication must be an ongoing dialogue between the “experts”, the elected officials and representatives, and the general public.  Much of the anger from the general public stems from confusion resulting from a lack of disclosure presented by scientists and governments. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Flint, 1989)


The Great Lakes have a complex history of changes due to eutrophication, exotic species, and phosphorus management practices.  We have come a long way in improving the conditions in the Great Lakes since the mid-1960s.  Remedial actions have reduced nutrient loadings and enhanced the role of food web interactions in improving water quality, resulting in a more favorable ecological balance.  Toxic substances in the environment have been greatly reduced and the ecosystem is showing signs of recovery.  The planned actions and regulations, a result of the culmination in a management program that is both uniform and binational, should be beneficial in prohibiting future damage.  The mutual efforts of both the United States and Canada over the past few decades have significantly improved and protected the Great Lakes.  Together, both countries have helped control the sea lamprey, reduced nutrient loading through phosphorus bans, addressed the over-collection of fish, limited toxic chemical contamination, and many other areas of concern.  The overall contaminant picture has improved dramatically with significant declines in environmental concentrations of most of the persistent contaminants.  Concentrations of PCBs and other persistent toxic contaminants in waterways and fish have significantly been reduced over the past quarter century.  PCB production has been banned and its use is being phased out in both countries.  The level of DDT has significantly declined since regulations were implemented.  The breeding populations of many native and beneficial species continue to increase.  Fish communities are also improving, showing signs of recovery in most of the Lakes.  Long-term monitoring is of the utmost importance to quantify changes that are occurring within the Great Lakes.  The monitoring provides benchmarks of success, and failure, while providing direction(s) for future research issues. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995; Gusella, et. al. 2001; Skinner, 2002)


Ongoing monitoring is essential to successfully manage the natural resources and ensure the environmental protection of the Great Lakes.  Through a partnership of Federal, State, and Tribal agencies, the Great Lakes monitoring programs help develop more informed and improved decisions for restoring and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.  Monitoring programs help determine sources of persistent, bioaccumulative toxins and how they move through the ecosystem. (Elster, 2001)


While limited progress is being made to decrease the number of new exotic species being introduced into the Great Lakes Basin, much remains to be accomplished.  Ships are now required to exchange their ballast water at sea raising the salinity of the ballast water to kill freshwater organisms.  Other control methods such as heating the water, biocides, filtration, and/or passing the water through ultraviolet light are being studied.  Large-scale and rigorous projects aimed at demonstrating potential control will ultimately lead us to reducing the number of exotics entering the Great Lakes and water bodies around the world. (Michigan DEQ, 2000)


Currently the overall water quality and clarity within the lakes is good due to regulations and control of discharges.  However, the ecological condition of the basin as a whole is borderline poor because many areas fail to meet environmental standards for drinking and fishing, mostly because of contaminated sediments.  Although a tremendous amount of progress has been made over the past quarter century, pollution will continue to have an impact on the lake basin for many years to come.  Because many areas in the basin are now in relatively good condition, ecologically and chemically speaking, they are being by-passed by the responsible agencies allocating funding.  However, if only a few resources are put into the continued protection of these areas, they will soon backslide and suffer similar stresses as previously existed. There is still a long way to go.  Fish contamination is still high and additional reductions are necessary to reach acceptable levels of risk (fish consumption is still not advised by the health agencies).  Some contaminants that have been banned in the Great Lakes region are still being transported into the region from long distances via the atmosphere.  Also, stresses on the ecosystem resulting from competition from exotic species, habitat loss, and the widespread trend towards suburban sprawl need to be addressed since future predictions are for a large increase in coastal population during the next decade. (Botts and Krushelnicki, 1995)


The U.S. Great Lakes program continues to adapt to address ever changing challenges, to focus efforts on protecting the health of the residents of the Basin, to restoration and protection of vital habitats, and to control the introduction and impacts of exotic species.  Remedial Action Plan and Lakewide Management Plan and the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences define research priorities, objectives and indicators, and appropriate remedial actions.  They continue to make strides towards protecting and restoring the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin. However, the proposed large-scale diversion of water, or export projects, needs much review and guardianship.  Since more water crosses the Canada-U.S. border naturally every day than we could ever divert, many existing proposals for water volume exports are minor compared to the volumes that flow to sea.  And, water sales could build local economies.  While careless permitting could do serious damage, a prudent and comprehensive analysis of the proposals is warranted.


Mega Port Project

If the involved parties of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are going to achieve their goal to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin, it is important to avoid the exploitation of natural resources and to implement institutional changes to ensure present and future needs are met.  To accomplish the objective of restoring and maintaining the integrity of the Great Lakes, studies must seek to reduce and virtually eliminate the input of persistent toxic substances.  Virtual elimination will be sought within the most expedient time frame through the most appropriate, common sense, practical and cost-effective blend of voluntary, regulatory, or incentive-based actions.  All feasible options must be considered, including pollution prevention, phase-outs, and bans.  Restoring and maintaining the good health of the Great Lakes will be the job of more than one generation.  It is anticipated that actions and challenges in this report will evolve over time as information about opportunities, cost effectiveness, and benefits become available.  Virtual elimination may not be achievable tomorrow, but the challenges and actions outlined in this report represent significant milestones on the path toward this goal. (Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy, 1997)

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Appendix – Web sites for further information

(Note:  The following information is provided as a possible service to readers.  While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information and web addresses presented in this document, which are current as of May 2002, the sites may contain errors and are subject to changes and updates.  These are beyond the control of the author and the Great Lakes Program, who cannot be held responsible for any errors, defects, or other consequential damages arising from the use of this information.)



The Great Lakes Atlas, 3rd ed. 1995. (ISBN 0-662-23441-3) Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 77 West Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604.  e-mail:


The third edition of this atlas consists of a revision and update of the original document produced by Environment Canada, United States Environmental Protection Agency and authored by Lee Botts and Bruce Krushelnicki.


Great Lakes Commission: 400 Fourth Street, Ann Arbor MI 48103-4816. phone: (734) 665-9135, fax: (734) 665-4370, e-mail:


The Great Lakes Commission is a binational agency that promotes the orderly, integrated and comprehensive development, use and conservation of the water and related natural resources of the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence River.  Since its establishment 45 years ago, the Great Lakes Commission has been a pioneer in applying principles of sustainability to the development, use and conservation of the natural resources of the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence River.


Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN). 400 Fourth Street, Argus II Bldg., Ann Arbor, MI 4810. phone: (734) 665-9135, fax: (734) 665-4370, e-mail:


The Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) is a partnership that provides one place for people to find information relating to the binational Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region of North America. GLIN offers a wealth of data and information about the region’s environment, economy, tourism, education and more. Thanks to its strong network of state, provincial, federal and regional partner agencies and organizations, GLIN has become a necessary component of informed decision making, and a trusted and reliable source of information for those who live, work or have an interest in the Great Lakes region.


Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Environment Canada’s Inquiry Center Website. e-mail:


This milestone event committed Canada and the United States to control pollution in the Great Lakes and cleaning up waste waters from industries and communities.


Forty-Three Areas of Concern.  Part of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada websites


In 1987 the International Joint Commission designated 43 Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes Basin - where the aquatic environment has been most severely affected. The governments of Canada and the United States are working with local communities to develop clean-up plans to restore and protect water quality in the 43 areas.


Great Lakes Regional Air Toxic Emissions Inventory. Great Lakes Commission: 400 Fourth Street, Ann Arbor MI 48103-4816. phone: (734) 665-9135,  fax: (734) 665-4370,  e-mail 


This inventory will assist in the successful implementation of key provisions of the Great Lakes Toxic Substances Control Agreement, signed by the Great Lakes governors in 1986.


Government Organizations


Environment Canada. Inquiry Centre, 351 St. Joseph Boulevard, Hull, Quebec, Canada K1A 0H3. phone: (819) 997-2800 or 1-800-668-6767, fax: (819) 953-2225, e-mail:


Environment Canada's mandate is to preserve and enhance the quality of the natural environment, including water, air and soil quality; conserve Canada's renewable resources;conserve and protect Canada's water resources; carry out meteorology; enforce the rules made by the Canada - United States International Joint Commission relating to boundary waters; and coordinate environmental policies and programs for the federal government.   Environment Canada's vision is to see a Canada where people make responsible decisions about the environment, and where the environment is thereby sustained for the benefit of present and future generations.


United States Environmental Protection Agency – Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO). 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604. or phone: (313) 353-2117, fax: (313) 353-2018, e-mail:


With this strategy, the States, tribes, and federal agencies responsible for environmental protection and resource management (including consumptive and non consumptive uses) in the Great Lakes Basin commit to achieving specific environmental goals through a full range of coordinated activities and to make the needed shift from doing business as independent entities to being part of a team and pulling together.


United States Environmental Protection Agency – Atmospheric Monitoring for Toxic Pollutants in the Great Lakes. 77 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604.  phone: (313) 353-2117, fax: (313) 353-2018, e-mail:


The Great Lakes National Program Office of the U.S. EPA performs atmospheric monitoring to determine atmospheric deposition loadings of toxic air pollutants to the Great Lakes. One component of this monitoring is the collection and tracking of airborne toxic pollutants at established monitoring stations. Atmospheric monitoring for toxic pollutants allows the tracking of toxic air pollutant transport. Many of these pollutants are volatile and can travel long distances in the air.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Great Lakes Basin Center.  1776 Niagara Street, Buffalo, NY 14207 or 111 North Canal Street, Suite 1200, Chicago, IL, 60606  phone: (716) 879-4209 or (716) 879-4104, e-mail


The Corps function is to plan, design, construct, operate and maintain navigational channels and flood control measures to the nation. They also implement environmental restoration projects as well as regulate shoreline construction and the filling of wetland areas. This office also has the mission to provide technical support to the International Joint Commission.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Great Lakes Water Levels Home Page. CELRE-EP-HH-W, 477 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226  phone: (313) 226-3054, e-mail:


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, Engineering and Technical Services, Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office tracks and maintains a database on water levels within the Great Lakes and there connecting channels, rivers and tributaries.  In addition, the Corps of Engineers often makes predictions on water level fluctuations for the short term future.


Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center. USGS Great Lakes Science Center, 1451 Green Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2807 or  phone: (734) 994-3331, fax: (734) 994-8780


The U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center (USGS GLSC) is dedicated to providing scientific information needed to resolve the complex biological issues and natural resource management problems facing the Great Lakes.  The Center has biological stations and research vessels located throughout the Great Lakes Basin.  The GLSC operates five research vessels, one on each lake. Their research spans a range of studies including fish populations and communities, aquatic habitats, terrestrial ecology, near-shore and coastal communities and the biological processes that occur in this complex ecosystem of the Great Lakes.


Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration U.S. Department of Commerce. 2205 Commonwealth Boulevard, Ann Arbor, MI 48105.  phone: (734) 741-2385 or –2235, fax: (734) 741-2003  e-mail:


The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) conducts high-quality research and provides scientific leadership on important issues in both Great Lakes and marine coastal environments leading to new knowledge, tools, approaches, awareness and services.


The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy. 77 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60604. or  phone: (313) 353-2117, fax: (313) 353-2018, e-mail:


The purpose of this binational strategy is to set forth a collaborative process by which Environment Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with other federal departments and agencies, will work in cooperation with their public and private partners toward the goal of virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances resulting from human activity, particularly those which bioaccumulate, from the Great Lakes Basin, so as to protect and ensure the health and integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem.


International Joint Commission U.S. Section. 1250 23rd Street N.W., Suite 100, Washington, DC 20440. phone: (202) 736-9024 or 9000, fax: (202) 736-9015,  e-mail:


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.  When asked by governments, the International Joint Commission investigates pollution problems in the lakes.  The governments of the United States and Canada can also ask the Commission to monitor situations and to recommend actions.


Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Basin Project c/o Canada Center for Inland Waters, 867 Lakeshore Road, P.O. Box 5050, Burlington, Ontario Canada L7R 4A6  phone: (905) 336-6417 or (905) 336-4959, fax: (905) 336-8901, e-mail:


The project's prime objectives are to determine the impacts of climate variability and change in four theme areas: water management; land use and management; ecosystem health; human health


Episodic Events-Great Lakes Experiment (EEGLE). CSCOR/Coastal Ocean Program, 1315 East West Highway, Room 9700, Silver Spring, MD 20910. phone: (301) 713-3338, fax: (301) 713-4044, e-mail:


This program is being coordinated by the NOAA GLERL and is scheduled to include three field years followed by two years of interpretation and product development.  Program components include a retrospective analysis of satellite imagery, water intakes, and other data, process and survey cruises, moored current meters, traps and data acquisition instruments and coupled hydrodynamic-sediment transport-ecological modeling. The goal of the program is to characterize the materials in the plume, infer their sources, and assess their potential impact on the cycling and transport of nutrients and contaminants


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA's) CoastWatch Program, E/SP22, Room 510, WWBG, NOAA, 5200 Auth Road, Camp Springs, MD 20746-4304.  phone: (301) 763-8142, fax: (301) 899-9196, e-mail:


CoastWatch Program makes satellite data products available to Federal, state, and local marine scientists and coastal resource managers.  For coastal areas in the Great Lakes, data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer polar orbiting spacecraft are collected and processed on NOAA computers. A set of NOAA-developed multi-channel atmospherically corrected algorithms for determination of sea surface temperature data are then mapped (Mercator Projection) and sectored to predefined coordinates specified. Digital, high resolution data products are then passed to CoastWatch Regional Nodes in the eastern U.S. Once data are delivered to the CoastWatch Regional Nodes they become available for local use by state, local and federal marine scientists and decision makers.


Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR), 1315 East West Highway, Room 9700, Silver Spring, MD 20910. phone: (301) 713-3338, fax: (301) 713-4044, e-mail:


CSCOR/COP provides scientific information to assist decision makers in meeting the challenges of managing our Nation's coastal resources. CSCOR/COP targets critical issues which exist in the Great Lakes. CSCOR/COP translates its findings into accessible information and the transfer of technology to coastal managers, planners, lawmakers, and the public. Its aim is to create near-term and continuous improvements in environmental decisions affecting the coastal ocean and its resources.


National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), 1305 East West Highway, Room 13501,  Silver Spring, MD 20910.  phone: (301) 713-3060, fax: (301) 713-4270, e-mail:


NCCOS conducts and supports monitoring, research, assessment, and assistance for the range of NOAA's coastal stewardship responsibilities. NCCOS evaluates environmental, societal, and economic issues through integrated assessments. NCCOS activities focus on five key areas of ecosystem stress: climate change, extreme natural events, pollution, invasive species, and land and resource use.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Lakewide Management Plans. U.S. EPA Region 5, 77 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60604. phone: (312) 353-2000,  e-mail:


A Lakewide Management Plan, or "LaMP", is a plan of action to assess, restore, protect and monitor the ecosystem health of a Great Lake. It is used to coordinate the work of all the government, tribal, and non-government partners working to improve the Lake ecosystem. A public consultation process is used to ensure that the LaMP is addressing the public's concerns.


Air Resources Laboratory, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. phone: (301) 713-0295, fax: (301) 713-0119, e-mail: 


The Air Resources Laboratory conducts research on processes that relate to air quality and climate, concentrating on the transport, dispersion, transformation, and removal of trace gases and aerosols, their climatic and ecological influences, and exchange between the atmosphere and biological and non-biological surfaces. The time frame of interest ranges from minutes and hours to that of the global climate.  The Laboratory provides scientific and technical advice to elements of NOAA and other Government agencies on atmospheric science, environmental problems, emergency assistance, and climate change.


Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force,


An inter-governmental organization dedicated to preventing and controlling aquatic nuisance species, and implementing the Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA) of 1990.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), 1600 Clifton Road, Mail Stop P13, Atlanta, GA 30333  phone: (888) 422-8737 or (404) 498-0160, fax: (404) 498-0057, e-mail:


The mission of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is to prevent exposure and adverse human health effects and diminished quality of life associated with exposure to hazardous substances from waste sites, unplanned releases, and other sources of pollution present in the environment.  The ATSDR performs specific functions concerning the effect on public health of hazardous substances in the environment.


Environmental Canada’s Great Lakes Information Management Resource (GLIMR) Minister of Environment, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0H3  phone: (819) 997-1441,  fax: (819) 953-3457, e-mail:,


GLIMR is a science-based government department whose business is helping humans live and prosper in an environment that is properly protected and conserved. It's goal is to help make sustainable development a reality in Canada. Their priorities are based on sound scientific research and are: clean air, clean water, climate change and nature conservation.


The Council of the Great Lakes Governors, 35 East Wacker Drive, Suite 1850, Chicago, IL 60601 phone: (312) 407-0177, fax: (312) 407-0038, e-mail:


The Council of Great Lakes Governors is a close non-partisan partnership of the Governors of the eight Great Lakes states - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  The Council was created in 1983 to tackle the severe environmental and economic challenges facing the citizens of their states.  Through shrewd fiscal management and sensible environmental policies, the Great Lakes Governors have made fundamental and sustainable changes in such areas as education, welfare reform, trade, and land use management.  The region is now well positioned to shape the direction of North America's economic prosperity and environmental stewardship.


Canadian Coastal Science and Engineering Association, Environment Canada, 45 Alderney Drive, Halifax, NovaScotia, Canada B2Y 2N6.  phone: (902) 426-2131, fax: (902) 426-4457, e-mail:


The Association provides a forum to address issues relevant to Canada's coastal zones (including Great Lakes) by bringing together scientists, engineers and managers from a broad range of disciplines. The CCSEA organizes national conferences and regional workshops, while actively promoting, and lobby on behalf of, coastal issues and research funding.


State of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Conferences (SOLEC). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Great Lakes National Programs Office, 77 West Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60604 or phone: (312) 353-3612, fax: (312) 353-2018, e-mail:


The SOLEC conferences are hosted by the USEPA and EC, on behalf of the two countries, in response to the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The conferences are intended to provide a forum for exchange of information on the ecological condition of the Great Lakes and surrounding lands. A major purpose of this is to reach a large audience of people in sectors that make decisions that affect the lakes. SOLEC views the ecosystem in terms of the state or "health" of the living system and its underlying physical, chemical and biological components. SOLEC conferences are intended to focus on the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem and the major factors impacting it rather than the status of programs needed for its protection and restoration.


United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation – Midwest region. 2820 Walton Commons West, Suite 123, Madison, WI 53716 phone: (608) 224-3001, fax: (608) 224-3010


The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership for the conservation of natural resources on private, and semi-private, lands. Using scientific and technical expertise, along with their partnerships with soil and water conservation districts and others, they help people conserve all natural  resources on private lands.


Environment Canada. Great Lakes Water Level Center. 867 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, ON L7R 4A6 phone: (905) 336-4580, fax: (905) 336-8901


The abundance, power and beauty of fresh water have always been an important part of Canadian life and identity. The Government of Canada wants to ensure a healthier environment, and healthier humans, by making clean water a priority.


Great Lakes Science Center. 1451 Green Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105 phone: (734) 994-3331, fax: (734) 994-8780, e-mail:


The Great Lakes Science Center provides information about biological resources in the Great Lakes Basin.  Their research results are used by management agencies, researchers, and the public to gain a better understanding about the lake basin, and to better manage it for the public interest.





Great Lakes Program, University at Buffalo, 202 Jarvis Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260 phone:(716)645-2088, fax:(716)645-3667,e-mail:


The program is one of over 10 university-based Great Lakes research centers in the U.S., and Canada.  Its purpose is to develop, evaluate and synthesize scientific and technical knowledge on the Great Lakes ecosystem in support of government management, public education and policy formation.


New York Sea Grant Institute, SUNY at Stony Brook, 121 Discovery Hall, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5001. phone: (631) 632-6905, fax: (631) 632-6917, e-mail:


One of the 30 Sea Grant programs nationwide, NYSG engauges in research, education and technology transfer to promote the understanding, sustainable development and conservation of our diverse resources on both the marine and Great Lakes coasts.  The program focuses university scientists and specialists on research, and the transfer of science-based information, to a great variety of coastal user groups, which include businesses and industries, federal, state and local government decision-makers and agency managers, the media and the interested public.


Sea Grant and the Great Lakes, 115 Nassau Hall, State University of New York-Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5001, phone: (516) 632-6905, fax: (516) 632-6917 e-mail:


Sea Grant has an outstanding record of achievement in transferring the results of university research to a wide range of audiences and giving special assistance to coastal communities, businesses and individual citizens.  Through its network of Advisory Service agents and its use of modern communications and education techniques, the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network plays a central role in supplying the region and the nation with usable solutions to pressing problems and providing the basic information needed to better manage Great Lakes resources for present and future generations of Americans.


University of Wisconsin ‑ Sea Grant Institute. University of Wisconsin, 1975 Willow Drive, 2nd Floor, Madison, WI 53706-1177 phone (608) 262-0905, fax (608) 262-0591, e-mail:


Wisconsin Sea Grant is a statewide program of basic and applied research to investigate issues critical to the wise use and protection of the Great Lakes for the benefit of everyone who manages, uses, or simply enjoys the freshwater lakes and to the stewardship and sustainable use of the nation's Great Lakes resources.


Airborne Contaminants Research University of Wisconsin, 1975 Willow Drive, 2nd Floor, Madison, WI 53706-1177 phone (608) 262-0905, fax (608) 262-0591, e-mail


Although huge, the lakes and surrounding basin are vulnerable to substances transported through the air from around the world. Scientists, policy makers and the public are concerned because many contaminants are toxic and pose risks to human and environmental health.  This branch of the University of Wisconsin is studying the sources and effects of air contaminants.


University of Minnesota, Duluth ‑ Sea Grant Institute. 1049 University Drive, Duluth, MN 55812, phone: (218) 726-8106,  e-mail:


Minnesota Sea Grant-funded scientists are expected to conduct sound, relevant research, to enhance the state's coastal environment and economy through high-quality research and public education programs, and be willing to help transfer their results to appropriate audiences.


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program. University of Illinois, 211 Mumford Hall, 1301 W. Gregory Dr., Urbana, IL 61801  phone: (217)333-0240, fax: (217) 333-2814, e-mail:


This program, a joint effort between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University at West Lafayette, Indiana, addresses problems related to water quality, aquaculture, coastal business, and the environment by coordinating efforts among agencies and organizations that deal with Lake Michigan issues and resources.  Program staff conduct research, outreach, and education activities that foster good stewardship of Lake Michigan, the other Great Lakes, and associated inland waterways. In addition, the program serves the public through publications, workshops, multimedia, and on the internet website.


Michigan Sea Grant College Program.  Michigan State University, 334 Natural Resources Building, East Lansing, MI 48824 phone: (517) 353-9568, fax: (517) 353-6496, e-mail:


Michigan Sea Grant is dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of Great Lakes and related coastal resources.  This cooperative program between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University has utilized community, academic and professional resources to advance understanding of the Great Lakes.


Ohio Sea Grant College Program.  The Ohio State University, 1314 Kinnear Road, Columbus, OH 43212-1194  phone:(614) 292-8949, fax: (614) 292-4364,  e-mail:


The Ohio Sea Grant College Program uses research, education, and outreach efforts to enhance and improve the management and use of the Great Lakes resources. Ohio Sea Grant College Program, a statewide program based at Ohio State University, funds Education, Research, Extension, and Communication activities, in multiple disciplines, to enhance the use, development, and wise management of our Great Lakes and coastal resources.


Pennsylvania Sea Grant Project. Pennsylvania State University, 5091 Station Road, Erie, PA 16563-0101. phone: (814) 898-6420, fax: (814) 898-6462, e-mail:


The goal of Pennsylvania Sea Grant is to increase public awareness of coastal issues  (environmental and economic) through extension, communication, education, and applied research activities, thereby improving the overall environmental and economic "health" of Pennsylvania's coastal region.


Great Lakes Research Consortium, 1 Forestry Drive, 24 Bray Hall, Syracuse, NY 13210, phone: (315) 470-6816, fax: (315) 470-6970, e-mail:


The Great Lakes Research Consortium is an organization of 16 universities and colleges dedicated to Great Lakes research.  Their mission is to improve the understanding of the physical, biological, and chemical processes that shape the Great Lakes ecosystem.


Center for Great Lakes Studies. Great Lakes WATER Institute. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 600 E. Greenfield Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53204.  phone: (414) 382-1700,  fax: (414) 382-1705, e-mail:


Since its inception, Center scientists have been involved in interdisciplinary research activities that focus on complex physical, chemical and biological processes in lakes and oceans. The product of these endeavors is a deeper understanding of the waters and their inhabitants as evolving ecosystems, responding to natural changes and to human activities. The knowledge gained from these studies has been applied to better predict and manage problems arising from the multifaceted uses of the Great Lakes ecosystem as a resource.


University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Dana Building 430 East University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1115. phone: (734) 764-6453,  fax: (734) 763-8965


The University’s School of Natural Resources and Environment is dedicated to the protection of the earth's resources and the achievement of a sustainable society. The faculty and researchers strive to stimulate knowledge, develop innovative policies, and refine new techniques.


Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 30473, Lansing, MI 48909 or,1607,7-135-3313_3677---,00.html phone: (517) 335-4056, e-mail: or


The Office of the Great Lakes was created to provide Michigan Government offices, and the public, a single information source for information on issues affecting, or involving, the Great Lakes, and to guide the development of government policies, programs and procedures that will protect, enhance, and provide wise management of Great Lakes resources.


Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER). University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B 3P4. phone: (519) 253-3000 ext. 2732, fax: (519) 971-3609, e-mail: or


The Great Lakes Institute is a consortium of researchers at the University of Windsor that work toward conservation and resource management; health, toxicology and risk assessment; aquatic ecosystem assessment; and sustainable design and development


Keweenaw Interdisciplinary Transport Experiment in Superior (KITES).  Michigan Technological University, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton,  MI  49931.  Sarah A. Green (Coordinator)  phone: (906) 487-3419, fax 487-2061, e-mail:


Non-Government Organizations


Center for Great Lakes Environmental Education. P.O. Box 56, Buffalo, NY 14205-0056. phone: (716) 878-3175, fax: (716) 885-5292, e-mail:


The Center for Great Lakes Environmental Education offers a one-stop approach to Great Lakes education for both formal and non-formal educators, linking them to publications, curricula guides, resource materials and training programs. The Center provides valuable and sound information, as well as practical tools, intended to integrate Great Lakes issues into teaching operations. It is the intention of the Center to foster cooperation in Great Lakes education by building upon and showcasing existing efforts.


Great Lakes Fishery Commission. 2100 Commonwealth Boulevard, Suite 209, Ann Arbor, MI 48105. phone: (734) 662-3209, fax: (734) 741-2010, e-mail:


The Commission has two major responsibilities: to develop coordinated programs of research on the Great Lakes, and, on the basis of the findings, to recommend measures which will permit the maximum sustained productivity of stocks of fish of common concern; and to formulate and implement a program to eradicate or minimize sea lamprey populations in  the Great Lakes.


International Association for Great Lakes Research. 2205 Commonwealth Boulevard, Ann Arbor, MI 48105 phone: (734) 665-5303, fax: (734) 741-2055, email:


The International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) is a scientific organization made up of researchers studying the Laurentian Great Lakes, and other large lakes of the world, as well as those with an interest in such research. Specifically, it promotes all aspects of large lakes research; and communicates research findings through publications and meetings.


National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Field Office, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston, VA 20190-5362. phone:(703) 438-6000,


The National Wildlife Federation is the nation's largest member-supported conservation group, uniting individuals, organizations, businesses and government to protect wildlife, wild places, and the environment.


Northeast-Midwest Institute. 218 D Street, Southeast Washington, DC 20003. phone: (202) 544-5200, fax: (202) 544-0043, e-mail:  


The Northeast-Midwest Institute is a research organization dedicated to economic vitality, environmental quality, and regional equity for Northeast and Midwest states. Formed in the mid-1970's, it fulfills its mission by conducting research and analysis, developing and advancing innovative policy, providing evaluation of key federal programs, disseminating information, and highlighting sound economic and environmental technologies and practices.  The Institute is unique among policy centers because of its ties to Congress through the Northeast-Midwest Congressional and Senate Coalitions.


Delta Institute. 53 W. Jackson Boulevard., Suite 1604, Chicago, IL 60604 phone: (312) 554-0900, fax: (312) 554-0193, e-mail:


The Delta Institute is a nonprofit organization that works on the policy and practice of sustainable development and environmental stewardship in the Great Lakes region.  The Delta Institute is a laboratory for new ideas to improve environmental quality and promote community and economic development. The Delta Institute works primarily on projects in the Great Lakes region, where recovery from more than a century of industrialization and its consequences presents special challenges.


Great Lakes United - Buffalo State College, Cassety Hall, 1300 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY, 14222  phone: (716) 886-0142, fax: (716) 886-0303, e-mail:


Great Lakes United is an international coalition dedicated to preserving and restoring the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River ecosystem. Great Lakes United is made up of member organizations representing environmentalists, conservationists, hunters and anglers, labor unions, community groups, and citizens of the United States, Canada, and Tribes.  Great Lakes United develops and promotes effective policy initiatives, carries out education programs, and promotes citizen action and grassroots leadership to assure clean water and clean air for all citizens, better safeguards to protect the health of people and wildlife, and a conservation ethic that will leave a healthy Great Lakes.


Lake Michigan Federation. 700 Washington Avenue, Suite 150, Grand Haven, MI 49417. phone: (616) 850-0745, fax: (616) 850-0765, e-mail: 


The Lake Michigan Federation works to restore fish and wildlife habitat, conserve land and water, and eliminate toxic chemicals in the watershed of America's Great Lake.  We achieve these through education, research, legislation, science, economics, and strategic partnerships.  Lake Michigan faces three general challenges: Restoring fish & wildlife habitat, Stopping toxic pollution, Conserving land & water.


Pollution Probe, 625 Church Street, Suite 402, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2G1, phone: (416) 926-1907, fax: (416) 926-1601, e-mail:


Pollution Probe is a Canadian environmental organization that helps define environmental problems through research; understanding and education.  Pollution Probe is re-building its water program, following on the extensive work it has done on the Great Lakes.  The initial phase of the water program focused on ensuring clean, safe drinking water in Ontario. They are now developing concepts, tools and partnerships to promote a new approach to water management, focusing on creating a water ethic that is global in outlook.


International Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Study Board. U.S. Secretariat - Dr. Tony Eberhardt. 1776 Niagara Street, Buffalo, NY 14207-3199. phone: (716) 879-4257, fax: (716) 879-4356, e-mail:


The Study Team engaged by the IJC is a binational group of diverse experts from government, academia, native communities, and interest groups representing the geographical, scientific and community concerns of the Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River system. The Lake Ontario - St. Lawrence River Study Board is undertaking a comprehensive five-year study for the IJC to assess and evaluate the current criteria used for regulating water levels on Lake Ontario and in the St. Lawrence River. The Study Team will deliver recommendations for new criteria and an updated plan for water level and flow regulation to the IJC.

Future Research Needs


International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) Business Office, 2205 Commonwealth Boulevard, Ann Arbor, MI 48105. phone: (734) 665-5303, fax: (734) 741-2055, e-mail:


The International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) is a scientific organization made up of researchers studying the Laurentian Great Lakes, and other large lakes of the world, as well as those with an interest in such research.  They promote all aspects of large lakes research; and communicate research findings through publications and public meetings.


Great Lakes Research Consortium. 1 Forestry Drive, S.U.N.Y. Environmental Science and Forestry, 24 Bray Hall Syracuse, NY 13210 phone: (315) 470-6816, fax: (315) 470-6970 email:


The Great Lakes Research Consortium is an organization of sixteen colleges and universities in New York, with nine affiliate campuses in Ontario, dedicated to collaborative research and education on the Great Lakes.  There are some 400 member faculty who are conducting research in the Great Lakes.  Their mission is to improve the understanding of the Great Lakes ecosystem, including the physical , biological, and chemical processes that shape it, as well as the social and political forces that affect human impact on the lakes and their associated economic resources.


Canada and U.S. Binational Toxics Strategy. U.S. EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office, 77 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL, 60604-3590 phone: (312) 353-4891 or -2117, fax: (312) 353-2018, e-mail:


The Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy is a Canada-United States Strategy for the Virtual Elimination of Persistent Toxic Substances.  The Strategy was developed jointly by Canada and the United States in April 1997.  The Strategy provides a framework for actions to reduce or eliminate persistent toxic substances, especially those which bioaccumulate, from the Great Lakes Basin.  The purpose of this binational strategy is to set forth a collaborative process by which Canada and lting from human activity, particularly those which bioaccumulate, from the Great Lakes Basin, so as to protect and ensure the health and integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The goal of virtual elimination will be achieved through a variety of programs and actions, but the primary emphasis will be on pollution prevention.

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