Great Lake Water Policy

Water is a resource that has been taken advantage of throughout history, and recently the world has started to learn the lessons of evolution. Over the past two centuries people have neglected to see that rapid population growth, economic expansion and urban area development have effected many parts of the world water supply. Water in recent years has played a huge part in the advances of societies. With the growth of society the concern to keep these resources protected and preserved has also grown. The reality of the situation is that water is no longer an unlimited resource.

Water policy has been a topic of recent discussion within the international community and the Unites States. It was in 1948 that the original structure of the regulating water quality was instilled but it was just the outline for what was to come. The United States set the frame work for water policy in 1972 with, “The Federal Clean Water Act.” This act helped regulate pollution of drinking water as well as set expectations of how water is managed. The act also helped to prevent water-borne diseases carried in drinking water to make it safer. In the United states alone 3 out of 4 people get their drinking water from the tap, which is mostly likely from a public reservoir or a public water supply. In addition to keeping people healthy, these policies were intended to maintain the water resources that the United States has. The United States and Canada share the biggest fresh water resource in the world between them. The
Great Lakes are a resource that were over looked until recently.⁷

All together the Great Lakes make up 22% of the fresh water supply on earth. In the United States the Great Lakes make 4.2% of the water supply. Although 4.2% does not seem like a big percentage it is a sizable from one source and many people would be affected if something happened to the fresh water source. For the past 150 years the Great Lakes region has been expanding. The growth of each lake is outlined in the graph.²¹


The lakes are a big resource to the shipping world. They act as a water high and since the 1950's have been a very popular way of transporting goods. There is a lot of transport of iron ore, coal, and limestone that travels through the Great Lakes. Not only is transportation a factor but also agriculture, marine life, and industrial growth are taken into consideration too. With all the growth withing the United States and Canada, both are looking at new ways to reduce the pollutants as well as preserve the natural ecosystem of this environment.¹²

There has been civilization around the Great Lakes for about 10,000 years. It was possible that there was a land bridge from Asia that placed the native there. However; it was in the 1600’s that people started to migrate to around the Great Lakes. Throughout the years there have been many wars over the region. Due to this, Canada and the United States created the, “International Joint Commission”(IJC) in 1909. It helped the two nations keep the Great Lakes protected from each other as well as clean. This was the first water policy that both countries had set up in order to create checks and balances. The IJC is responsible for three main tasks over the Great Lakes. The first is the management over the use of the water. The second is continuous research on the Great Lakes, to understand the problems that are going on. The third responsibility is to make sure any disputes that the nations can not solve for themselves in the IJC are to brought to the commission for final decision. The IJC are the ones that are suppose to watch over and assess the progress of the water quality agreement.¹

The Water Quality Agreement is shared between the IJC, the Water Quality Board and the Science Advisory board. The Water Quality Board helps with the IJC, they are the main consultant to the commission. It is made up of high ranking people from the different agencies like; federal, state and the provincial. The Science Advisory board works with the Water Quality Board. They are the people who supervise most of the research and data collecting. The people that are involved in the Science Advisory Board help to give recommendation to the Water Quality Board about what has been found. They provide the data of what should be happen to the Great Lakes.¹

The board and commission are making change within the Great Lakes, they are changing what the past century has done. As talked about earlier, agriculture is one of the main pollutants of the Great Lakes. There had been clearing of the land that has altered the structure of the lake and interfered with the ecosystem. Increased flooding on the area, ruining vegetation, and creating seasonal water fluctuations . Agriculture also created a number of pollutants that are in the waters now. There are numerous chemicals that are now present in the lakes from the run-offs of fertilizers that were used. DDT is an example of a compound that got into the lake but since it was band, the levels have gone down. Plus some areas of wild life are now recovering. Transportation and industrial areas of the Great Lakes have also done many things to reduce what destruction is happening to the Lakes. Transportation has slowly reduced its self in recent years. With modern modes of transportation, the smaller vessel started to disappear. Mainly the large ships are left for mass transit. The industries on the other hand have not slowly decreased. They have increased and there have been numerous regulates now. There are many areas of the Great Lakes that have been contaminated because of them. All of the sewage or waster products were released into different water ways in the past century. It wasn’t until after that they realized that they were polluting the water that they stop and are now trying to regulate what goes into the water to prevent anything else from happening.¹

One of the most recent acts that the area passed on to Congress was, “The Great Lakes Legacy Act”. It was proposed in 2002 to Congress allowing the 270 million dollars be used to help to reduce what people are doing to the Great Lakes. There was 50 million dollars that will be used on the lake for various reasons. The act is there to assess the damage that is already in place as well as try to find a solution and to stop any further damages from happening. The act is supposed to clean up areas that have really been affected by pollutants. The act is to help clean up sediment to increase property values which help to build economic growth around the area. Also the act is to fund any of these clean up projects and research that is done every year on, "areas of concern." The map below shows all the area of concerns between the United state and Canada and place that are shared.⁶⁵

The Great Lakes is an example of what good management, time and research can do to protect a "National Treasure", in contrast to the Aral Sea and what happens with the mismanagement. Another form of support came in 2006 from Congress when the “Great Lakes Regional Collaboration” was put together. The goal of the group was to set up a framework to determine how to keep the Lakes at status quo. The first mission of the framework was to develop a Great Lake Protection and Prevention strategy. This would address the consequences the people are currently having on the Great Lakes and what people can do to protect them from great damage and restore the damage that has already occurred. The group also wants to provide new strategies for helping the Great Lakes ecosystem in the future. For many who worry that the Great Lakes is going to be lost like the Aral Sea, it isn't! There are many policies that are in place to help treat, stop and prevent what is going on to the lakes.⁴⁵

  1. "People and the Great Lakes." Chapter 3, Environmental Protection Agency (January 31, 2009)
  2. "The Great Lakes" Wikipedia (February 15,2009)
  3. "WATER." Environmental Protection Agency (February 2, 2009)
  4. " Areas of Concern" Environmental Protection Agency February 3,2009)
  5. "The Great Lake Regional Collaboration." Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (February 10,2008)
  6. "The Great Lakes Legacy" Enviromental Protection Agency (February 11, 2008)
  7. "Clean Water Act." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 16 Feb 2009, 05:12 UTC. 18 Feb 2009 <>.