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U.S., Canada weigh in on Great Lakes
July 05, 2023
A system as vast and vital as the Great Lakes will always have countless stewards keeping watch over its health. The United States and Canada work cooperatively under the 2012 version of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) to manage and protect these shared waters of the two nations. The year 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the GLWQA. Every three years, the governments of the U.S. and Canada release a State of the Great Lakes report highlighting status and trends of Great Lakes ecosystem health.
Lake Superior shoreline.
The 2022 report recognizes tremendous progress to restore and protect the lakes, including reducing toxic chemicals and reducing establishment of invasive aquatic species. But it also notes significant challenges, including the impacts of nutrients, especially in Lake Erie and localized areas; invasive species; and climate change.
The two governments work with numerous partners to produce the report, pursuant to the binational GLWQA. To assess the overall status and trends in the Great Lakes ecosystem, the report considers nine measures of ecosystem health:
- Can we drink the water?
- Can we swim at the beaches?
- Can we eat the fish?
- Have levels of toxic chemicals declined in the environment?
- Are the lakes supporting healthy wetlands and populations of native species?
- Are nutrients in the lakes at acceptable levels?
- Are we limiting new introductions and the impacts of non-native species?
- Is groundwater negatively affecting the water quality of the lakes?
- Are land use changes or other stressors impacting the lakes?
Based on these criteria – and 45 science-based sub-indicators – the 2022 report finds the overall Great Lakes status “Fair” and the trend “Unchanging.”
Here’s a closer look at the report’s general findings, lake by lake:
Superior: Good and Unchanging Forested watershed and coastal wetlands help maintain water quality and a healthy aquatic ecosystem.
Michigan: Fair and Unchanging Habitats support a diverse array of plant and animal species, and its waters provide opportunities for swimming and recreational use. However, invasive species and other stressors continue to affect both water quality and the lake’s food web.
Huron: Good and Unchanging Remains healthy despite nearshore algal blooms and a reduction in offshore nutrients by invasive filterfeeding mussels. Its status is upgraded from “Fair” in the 2019 report.
Erie: Poor and Unchanging Despite a productive walleye fishery, elevated nutrient concentrations and algal blooms are persistent problems.
Ontario: Fair and Unchanging to Improving Improvements include fewer beach closings and declines in contaminant concentrations in fish.