Keeping Up Our Great Lakes Momentum

A Lake Erie algae bloom seen by satellite courtesy of NOAA/NASA

A Lake Erie algae bloom seen by satellite courtesy of NOAA/NASA

We as people will always need clean water.

With more than 90 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water, few if any places tell the story of the need for and work to protect public health as it relates to fresh water than the Great Lakes.

We started down this trail together by calling for a “new standard of care for the Great Lakes,” to leave them better for the next to the next generation than the way we found them. Since then, we’ve punched the accelerator on Great Lakes protection and restoration by:

  • Establishing a “Great Lakes Trust”—If you believe like I do that clean water, air and land is our life support system, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a much-needed investment through thousands of projects to improve water quality, rebuild habitat, educate the next generation, and many others efforts from Duluth to Buffalo and points in between.
  • Taking a “zero tolerance policy” toward invasive species—When in 2009 evidence appeared of silver and bighead carpin the Chicago Area Waterway System, agencies scrambled to patch together their authorities to prevent an invasion of the Great Lakes. By forming the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, they institutionalized their efforts and, so far, have kept the fish out.
  • Revitalizing the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement—For the first time in a quarter century, the policy that guides how the two federal governments coordinate now addresses threats to the Great Lakes from climate change, habitat, invasive species, and others.There are many other accomplishments that deserve mention—such as reducing toxic mercury, rebuilding Lake Ontario coastal wetlands with International Joint Commission, and others—than can be detailed here.But maybe the most important milestone in the journey is that it has not been top-down. It is the growing partnership of states, tribes, municipalities, businesses, environmental organizations, academia and individual citizens who simply “show up.” We’ve seen this through the Agreement’s Great Lakes Executive Committee, the federal agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board, and others.It is through this vibrant ecosystem of people and jurisdictions that the remaining work—and there is much still to do—will carry forward the effort to protect and restore one of the Earth’s most magnificent and vital life support systems.