Gatineau, Quebec Fifty years ago, Canada and the United States first signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a commitment to work together to restore and protect our shared and increasingly precious resource. Since 1972, the Agreement has been a catalyst for strong regional partnerships and innovative approaches to environmental actions.
Environment and Climate Change Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency have now published two reports required under the Agreement: the State of the Great Lakes 2022 Report and the 2022 Progress Report of the Parties.
The SOGL report provides a summary of the health of the Great Lakes using indicators of ecosystem health, such as drinking water, fish consumption, and beach closures. Over 120 Great Lakes scientists and other experts worked to assemble available data and prepare Great Lakes assessments. Based on the SOGL indicators, the Great Lakes are collectively assessed as “Fair” and “Unchanging.”
There has been tremendous progress in restoring and protecting the Great Lakes, including reductions in toxic chemicals and in the establishment of new non-native aquatic species. Some indicator assessments demonstrate that there are still significant threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem, including the impacts of nutrients, especially in Lake Erie and some nearshore areas in other Great Lakes, and the impacts of invasive species. Climate change is intensifying some ecosystem threats.
The Progress Report of the Parties describes recent achievements in restoring and protecting Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health. Over the last three years, governmental partners have made significant progress in implementing the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Unprecedented progress has been made to remediate and restore Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs), including remediating over 1,280,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and formally restoring and delisting two AOCs.
Reducing excess phosphorus inputs to Lake Erie remains a high priority for action. The United States reduced agricultural and municipal sources of phosphorus to the Lake Erie watershed by over 3 million pounds (1,361 tonnes) between 2015 and 2020; Canada has reduced phosphorus loading to the watershed by 44,093 pounds (20 tonnes). Governmental agencies continue to reduce populations of silver and bighead carp in the Illinois River and take other measures to prevent these invaders from becoming established in the Great Lakes. Hundreds of projects that restore the health of Great Lakes watersheds, coastlines, and aquatic habitats have been implemented.
Content from these two reports will be the focus of discussion at the 2022 Great Lakes Public Forum in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada from September 27 to 29, 2022.
The Forum provides an opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the state of the lakes and progress made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, as well as comment on future priorities for science and action.
Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said: “Protecting the Great Lakes can only be achieved by working together. With our American friends and neighbours, we have had incredible success in cleaning up the Great Lakes from pollutants, while reducing farm run-off and protecting species at risk. This was made possible by concerted action and advocacy, but much yet remains to be done. As we celebrate 50 years of environmental collaboration for our treasured Great Lakes, the released reports and upcoming Public Forum will help us engage communities and stakeholders on our future priorities.”
Michael Regan, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, added: “Over the past fifty years, the United States and Canada have made tremendous progress working together to protect the Great Lakes and support a thriving regional economy. Through our strong partnership with Canada and additional Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we remain committed to safeguarding this shared treasure for present and future generations.”