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Great Lakes Strategy 2002

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Great Lakes Strategy 2002
A Plan for the New Millennium

A Strategic Plan for the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Working Together: Effectively Coordinating Programs and Resources to Protect and Restore the Great Lakes

Goal: To work together as an environmental community to establish effective programs, coordinate authorities, and hold forums for information exchange and collective decision-making, so that the Great Lakes are protected and the objectives of the Agreement are achieved.

Implementing the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Binational responsibility for the protection of the Great Lakes is a necessity as four of the five Great Lakes are shared by the U.S. and Canada. Beginning in 1909 with the signing of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, there have been over 90 years of international and interstate cooperation on Great Lakes issues. The GLWQA was signed in 1972, and was amended in 1978, 1983, and 1987. It was reviewed by the U.S. and Canada in 1999-2000 and will be reviewed periodically in the future.

The GLWQA establishes environmental goals and commitments for the Great Lakes to monitor and control pollution and water quality throughout the Basin. These goals help to establish joint priorities and lay the groundwork for joint strategies to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. The GLWQA has served as a prime example of international cooperation to address issues of mutual concern. The evolution of this institutional framework serves as a model for other areas of the country and for other countries to follow in the 21st century.

As outlined in Annex 2 of the GLWQA, the Great Lakes Program is characterized by three progressive scales of problem definition: “Basin-wide”, "Lake-wide" and localized "AOCs". Environmental problems are addressed at different scales depending on their scope, in order to design effective prevention and control strategies. Consequently, the Great Lakes Program involves a "nested" set of activities, managed and implemented by an alliance of Federal, State, Tribal, and non-government agencies. LaMPs and RAPs are the major organizing tools of the program.

The International Joint Commission's Oversight Role

The International Joint Commission (IJC) was established under The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The IJC is an independent international organization charged with preventing and resolving disputes over the use of waters shared by the U.S. and Canada. Under the GLWQA, the IJC assesses progress and makes recommendations to the Parties to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.

The IJC's Water Quality Board is the principal advisor to the IJC on all matters related to the GLWQA. In 1996, The Water Quality Board made recommendations to the Parties on broad desired outcomes for the Great Lakes. These outcomes appear in Appendix 2.

The USPC coordinates with the IJC and its boards, using existing mechanisms and protocols. It reports progress and provides responses to IJC recommendations to improve GLWQA implementation.

Implementing Lakewide Management Plans

The Great Lakes Basin presents challenges owing to its vast area, multiple-jurisdictions, and the unique character and nature of each Lake and its problems. For these reasons, a separate LaMP has been or will be developed for each Lake. Each LaMP's primary goal is to support the overall goal called for in the GLWQA to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes, and to serve as a mechanism to more specifically address a variety of ecosystem stressors or beneficial use impairments as listed in Appendix 1, such as critical pollutants, habitat protection and loss, nutrient loadings, and the control of invasive species. Loadings of critical pollutants to the open lake waters will continue to be reduced through the development and implementation of the LaMPs.

The LaMPs will serve as the primary delivery mechanism for the coordination and planning of environmental/ecosystem protection activities for the Lakes. Each LaMP includes an identification of priority actions, and implementation schedules and responsibilities. As of the date of this Strategy, LaMPs for Lakes Michigan, Superior, Erie and Ontario have been published. A Lake Huron Initiative (LHI) began in 1999, was published, and is moving forward. The U.S. and our Canadian partners have agreed to issue LaMP updates every two years, which will report on progress and incorporate new information as it becomes available. The LaMP process will assist in coordinating U.S. activities with Canadian Federal and Provincial governments, and among Federal, State, and Tribal agencies within the U.S. on a lake-specific basis.

Key Actions:

Continue to implement LaMPs. By April 2002, complete update of LaMPs and report on implementation progress. Issue updates on a 2-year cycle.

Cleaning Up Areas of Concern Through Remedial Action Plans

The U.S. and Canada have identified 43 geographic problem areas around the lakes called AOCs. There are 31 AOCs in the U.S., and five of these are shared with Canada. For each AOC, a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) has been developed. Each RAP identifies the nature, cause, and extent of the environmental problems (beneficial use impairments) in the AOC and develops appropriate remedial response actions.

[Collingwood Harbor, Ontario has been delisted.]

Remedial response actions are implemented through the use of Federal and State programs and authorities. Clean up work in these areas has gone on for several decades, and recently there has been heightened attention to accelerating clean ups and delisting of AOCs.

USEPA, its Federal partners and the States will continue to clean up AOCs and will move forward to delist areas where beneficial use impairments have been restored. A U.S. Delisting Principles and Guidelines will be published by the end of 2001.

Key Objectives:

Delist at least three AOCs by 2005 and a cumulative total of 10 by 2010. AOCs that are initial candidates for meeting the first part of this goal are Waukegan Harbor, IL; Presque Isle Bay, PA; and Manistique, MI.

Key Actions:

Complete final U.S. Delisting Principles and Guidelines by the end of 2001.

By 2002, evaluate the use of a new management paradigm for AOCs that better demonstrates and tracks progress toward restoring beneficial uses.

Bring all RAPs to implementation phase by 2005.

Special Focus Area: Lake St. Clair

USEPA sponsored a Lake St. Clair conference in December 1999, which highlighted environmental concerns in this important binational waterway, including sediment contamination, non-point source pollution, sewer overflows, fish advisories, and impacts from invasive species. Despite these problems, the lake is also recognized, through the SOLEC process, as an ecologically rich area. Efforts are now underway to address these issues, and to document historical conditions and existing high-quality habitat. Lake St. Clair has been identified as a special focus area and current and future activities are planed to protect the watershed.

Key Actions:

Support the development of a locally-driven, binational program to coordinate management of Lake St. Clair, including habitat assessment, monitoring coordination, and periodic “State of the Lake” reports and conferences.

Support the development of a larger advisory forum from the binational community.

Reporting on Environmental Indicators - Data and Trends

As part of the Great Lakes Ecosystem, humans have had an undeniable impact on the health of all ecosystem components. To gain an understanding of the status and trends of the health of the Great Lakes and its ecosystem components, a set of indicators have been developed. No one organization has the resources, expertise, or the mandate to examine all aspects of the State of the Lakes. However, dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals routinely collect and analyze data, and report on parts of the health of the ecosystem.

Because of the size of the Great Lakes and the number of collecting and reporting jurisdictions, a consensus by environmental management and natural resource agencies and other interested stakeholders regarding necessary and sufficient information to characterize the State of the Lakes Ecosystem is a way to facilitate more efficient monitoring and reporting programs. The relative strengths of the agencies will be utilize to improve the quality and timeliness of data collection, avoid duplication of effort, and make the information available to multiple users, including the general public.

The dialogue developed as part of the biennial SOLEC has been an appropriate launching point for addressing and agreeing on indicator development, information gathering, and reporting. The SOLEC process, which is binational, has identified over 80 indicators to date that will provide information on all components of the Great Lakes Ecosystem. These indicators will provide information to the public, the LaMP committees, and a wide spectrum of other Federal, State and Tribal agencies to gauge the health of the lakes. Trends and status will be coordinated with the Government Performance and Reports Act requirement to insure fully coordinated reporting processes and procedures. In addition, a Lake Michigan Monitoring Council has been formed to assist in ensuring that monitoring resources and information are shared, coordinated, and support agreed upon indicators. This effort will serve as a model for other Lakes.

Key Objectives:

By 2006, the SOLEC, LaMP, and RAP processes will provide clear information on Great Lakes water quality measures, trends, and actions (e.g., water quality trends, fish tissue trends, beach closures, RAP and LaMP implementation, ecosystems restored); will be accessible to the public via the Internet; and will be updated on a regular basis.

Key Actions:

Continue supporting SOLEC indicator process, through a network of Federal, State, Tribal and non-governmental groups. Include reports on indicators and ensure the process is fully coordinated at the Lake-wide and local levels.

Support the establishment and operation of Lake-specific monitoring committees designed to coordinate monitoring, data gathering, and data quality activities by multiple agencies and organizations.

Establishing Research Priorities for the Great Lakes

The challenges facing the Great Lakes community are complex and interrelated. Addressing all of the multiple challenges discussed in this Strategy requires a strong, well-focused research program. Scientifically sound management decisions based on fundamental ecosystem understanding and reliable facts about human health and the environment are the key to success. New research technologies must be developed to identify and assess environmental stressors. New remedial technologies must be developed to help restore and sustain the natural resources of the Ecosystem. The Great Lakes community is fortunate to have numerous Federal, Tribal, State, Provincial, and university research organizations that are poised to fulfill these scientific needs.

The International Joint Commission's Council of Great Lakes Research Managers (CGLRM) has a responsibility to identify binational research priorities and emerging issues relative to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. In addition, the Council produces an annual Great Lakes Research Inventory. The information produced by the Council can be used to identify the scientific knowledge gaps that limit the ability of Great Lakes managers to meet specific goals of the GLWQA. The research priorities and

Research Inventory can assist Federal, Tribal, State, Provincial, academic institutions, and funding organizations in developing research objectives for the Great Lakes.

Most agencies conduct or fund research that address their mission-specific priorities. Through communication and collaboration, information is developed that provides the science-based decision-making framework for the management goals and key objectives throughout this strategic plan. Examples of several agency research programs follow:

A broad research foundation is necessary for understanding the ecosystems that support the Great Lakes. NOAA has a very broad and multidisciplinary scientific mission in the Great Lakes. NOAA, through the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and through the Sea Grant Research and Extension Program conducts research and monitoring that provides the fundamental understanding necessary to model and predict the structure and function of aquatic environments and to identify and integrate information to improve the scientific basis for decision-making. GLERL houses a unique combination of scientific expertise in ecosystem modeling and food webs, biogeochemistry, invasive species, physical limnology, fish ecology, climate, contaminant cycling, and water resources. New tools, approaches, and models use the new knowledge and the growth of understanding obtained to advance assessment and prediction. Improved models are able to better predict ecosystem behavior, and hence offer better guidance to resource managers and decision makers. NOAA research partnerships with academia, with other federal agencies, and with the private sector are critical components in an overall strategy to provide our Nation's leaders with the knowledge and application-oriented findings and recommendations they need to make informed decisions.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is a science and information agency that plays an important role in providing sound information on the environmental and natural resources to management and regulatory agencies. In the Great Lakes region, the USGS Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor, MI (and its eight field stations and fisheries research vessels on each lake) and the USGS water resources offices in each of the eight Great Lakes States are the most well known units of the USGS. The Great Lakes Science Center conducts annual fish stock assessments, fishery research, coastal and wetlands ecology, terrestrial ecology with emphasis on Federal public lands, and non-indigenous species research. The water resources offices conduct tributary monitoring programs and a wide spectrum of surface and groundwater research. Recently, the USGS embarked upon a strategic change initiative and is promoting integrated scientific investigations that take advantage of its expertise in biology, geology, mapping, and water disciplines and to enhance its partnerships with other organizations in order to better address the resource issues nationwide and specifically in the Great Lakes region.

The USEPA Office of Research and Development, in partnership with Program and Regional Offices, has established Clean Water and Sound Science research strategies that address national needs to advance monitoring designs for assessing the ecological condition of aquatic resources, develop techniques to identify causes of impairments, establish nutrient, habitat and toxics criteria, and forecast future condition to support risk-based remediation and restoration options. Consistent with development and implementation of these strategies, USEPA's research effort in the Great Lakes Basin parallels the national effort. For example, the USEPA Mid-Continent Ecology Division in Duluth, MN, which is responsible for coordinating and undertaking ORD's assessment and effects-based research in the Great Lakes Basin, meets semi-annually with the Great Lakes National Program Office to facilitate integration of the basin-specific efforts within the national strategies.

To implement a synergistic research strategy, interagency research coordination will be accomplished binationally on a continual basis, through professional conferences, agency workshops, and related venues that address specific key research areas. Through ongoing efforts undertaken on multiple program levels, addressing high priority research needs, the scientific community in the Great Lakes will assist decision makers in solving pressing environmental problems in the Basin.

 Ensuring U.S. Coordination and Cooperation

The U.S. Policy Committee was reestablished and reinvigorated in 1999 and has spearheaded the development and implementation of this Strategy. The USPC is comprised of representatives of State, Tribal, and Federal agencies. The USPC will set overall priorities and coordinate the development of individual actions and commitments by each Agency to achieve the goals, objectives, and actions in this Strategy.

Each year the USPC will review the joint progress against priorities set and ensure collective accountability. In order to ensure progress and overall accountability for these joint priorities, the USPC will promote international, interagency, and cross-program coordination for the Great Lakes and ensure that the necessary communication and decision-making is occurring on a timely basis. The USPC may recommend adjustments in Agencies’ actions to facilitate the accomplishment of this plan, as well as in other important related plans and initiatives such as LaMPs and RAPS. The USPC will be the key forum for developing U.S. consensus positions on Great Lakes environmental policy issues that will be coordinated with our Canadian partners. 

Fostering Binational Coordination and Cooperation

The Binational Executive Committee (BEC) is a high-level forum composed of senior-level representatives of the USPC and Canadian counterpart agencies who are accountable for delivering major programs and activities to fulfill the terms of the GLWQA. The BEC derives its mandate from the provisions of the GLWQA which relate broadly to notification, consultation, coordination, and joint activity. In particular, Article X specifies the commitments of the Parties to consultation and review: “The Parties (U.S. and Canada), in cooperation with State and Provincial Governments, shall meet twice a year to coordinate their respective work plans with regard to the implementation of this Agreement and to evaluate progress made.”

The BEC meets twice a year to:

Public Involvement

Public involvement is an important aspect of the successful management of the Great Lakes. The partners of this Strategy recognize our trust responsibilities to the public and commit to seeking meaningful public involvement in our decision-making process. Major venues for public involvement include LaMPs and RAP forums, each comprised of a broad array of stakeholders, as well as the biennial listening sessions at the IJC's Water Quality Forum.

We also recognize the extensive technical expertise of environmental organizations, public groups, educational institutions, and industry. The partners to this Strategy will actively seek views and perspectives on major activities through existing forums, focused public comment periods, and listening sessions.

Key Actions:

Continue to foster public involvement in Great Lakes programs by supporting AOC and LaMP Public Advisory Councils and Forums, and other specially designed mechanisms to obtain meaningful involvement.

Communicating and Reporting Progress

The USPC will work with our Canadian partners to provide periodic updates and progress reports to the public and other entities that have an interest or role in Great Lakes environmental protection. The primary vehicle for this will be periodic reports such as the overall Report on the Great Lakes Ecosystem, required by section 118 of the Clean Water Act, as well as State and other Agency reports. Other important vehicles for reporting are the binational SOLEC report, and periodic updates and reports from the LaMP and RAP processes. The SOLEC report emphasizes the health of the lakes from a scientific perspective. LaMPs and RAPs will report on progress toward achieving ecosystem restoration goals and restoring beneficial uses. A comprehensive progress report on the Great Lakes Ecosystem will be provided to the IJC biannually, as required by the GLWQA. The partners to this Strategy commit to placing reports and information on the Internet on a timely basis so information can reach a wide audience. In our implementation of the Strategy, we will endeavor to reduce reporting overlap and redundancy in order to improve public comprehension of key issues and trends.

Emerging Problems and Continuing Challenges

The environmental protection and natural resource management problems of the Great Lakes Basin are a great challenge. As our knowledge of the Ecosystem progresses, we can expect newly identified problems to emerge. This Strategy is not a static work plan, but rather reflects an ongoing commitment to the long-term protection and restoration of the Great Lakes.

Future challenges for the Great Lakes will continue to be in the area of traditional environmental protection, but other issues such as global climate change, impacts of energy policies, and water uses and exports may become increasingly important.


This multi-Agency Strategy charts the course of environmental protection and ecosystem management in the Basin for the next five years and beyond to meet the environmental challenges facing the Great Lakes. The focus of this Strategy is on ecosystem management and environmental protection. We have identified a full array of specific initiatives and programs to improve the Great Lakes Ecosystem. Through this Strategy, we continue our tradition of building cooperation and coordination among partners that have a shared interest and responsibility to preserve and protect the Great Lakes.

This Strategy seeks to include our citizens and stakeholders in these actions as full participants who may take the lead in many areas. The States, Tribal, and Federal partners recognize the challenge of this effort but believe that such an approach is essential to achieving success. This Strategy demonstrates that we have entered a new era, with a commitment to renewing our partnership. We will continue to pursue cooperative actions to clean up and protect the Great Lakes. We recognize that the world's largest freshwater system and the vulnerable living resources that rely on it, merit the highest level of our efforts and attention.

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