Jump to main content.

U.S. Policy Committee
Great Lakes Strategy 2002


View the Report
(PDF 126Kb, 50 pages)

exit EPA [About PDF]

back to index 

Great Lakes Strategy 2002
A Plan for the New Millennium

A Strategic Plan for the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Renewing the Partnership

Since the signing of the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), programs and policies to restore and protect the Great Lakes have served as a worldwide model for inter-jurisdictional cooperative environmental protection and natural resource management. Toxic substances in the environment have been greatly reduced and the ecosystem shows signs of recovery. Billions of dollars in wastewater infrastructure improvements and bans on high phosphate household detergents have largely addressed the excess nutrient loads which choked the Great Lakes with nuisance algae. The treatment of industrial effluent discharges has greatly improved water quality. Multimedia initiatives to prevent pollution from persistent, toxic substances, have evolved to become a national program. Multi-stakeholder lake-wide and local stewardship initiatives are serving to identify and protect habitats which support an important variety of plants, fish, terrestrial wildlife, and other important species found in this world-class freshwater ecosystem. Despite these impressive accomplishments, much work remains to be done to ensure a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem.

Great Lakes Strategy 2002 (hereunder the "Strategy") was created by the U.S. Policy Committee (USPC) – a forum of senior-level representatives from the Federal, State, and Tribal governmental agencies that share responsibility for environmental protection and natural resources management of the Great Lakes – to advance the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. The purview of this Strategy is focused on U.S. Federal, State and Tribal government environmental protection and natural resource management activities as they relate to fulfilling the goals of the GLWQA. Activities such as economic development, while related the goals of this Strategy, are not specifically addressed. This Strategy will serve to coordinate and streamline efforts of the USPC, by focusing and establishing a set of common goals on high priority multi-Lake and basin-wide environmental issues. The Strategy employs and supports multi-stakeholder environmental protection efforts in the Great Lakes, such as Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) and Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) for Areas of Concern (AOCs), by integrating them in an overall basin-wide context to address issues that are beyond the individual scopes of these programs.

[The GLWQA, first signed by President Nixon and Prime Minister Trudeau in 1972, establishes a joint, binational commitment by the U.S. and Canada to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.]

The restoration and protection of the Great Lakes ecosystem is a massive undertaking. This international watershed includes two nations, eight U.S. States, a Canadian Province, more than forty Tribes and First Nations, and many local governments. Only through a cooperative partnership can we ensure its health. Great Lakes Strategy 2002 will guide the efforts of the USPC for the next several years. Working with the broader Great Lakes community, the USPC looks forward to implementing this "Great Plan for the Great Lakes."

Why The Great Lakes Are Important Regionally, Nationally, and Globally

The Great Lakes basin is home to more than thirty million people. It is where many of us live, work, and play. The Great Lakes – deep fresh water seas – are the largest system of surface freshwater on the Earth, spanning about 800 miles and containing about 20% of the world's surface freshwater resource (5,500 cubic miles or about six quadrillion gallons of water). The water in the Great Lakes accounts for more than 90% of the surface freshwater in the U.S. In the U.S., the Great Lakes are considered a fourth seacoast. The total shoreline (U.S. and Canadian, including connecting channels and islands) is more than 10,000 miles, or about 40% of the earth's circumference.

The Great Lakes basin holds major urbanized areas that are home to more than one-tenth of the population of the U.S. and one-quarter of the population of Canada (a total of more than 33 million people). Over thirty million people in the U.S. and in Canada rely on the Great Lakes watershed as a source of drinking water.

The basin contains many thriving, ecologically rich areas. The Great Lakes ecosystem includes such diverse elements as northern evergreen forests, deciduous forests, tall grass and lake plain prairies, sandy barrens, alvars, dunes, and coastal wetlands. Over thirty of the basin's biological communities and over 100 species are globally rare or found only in the Great Lakes basin.

The wealth of natural resources has long made the region a heartland of both the U.S. and Canadian industrial economy. Economic activity in the Great Lakes basin exceeds $200 billion a year. There are notable concentrations of multi-sector manufacturing facilities in each of the Great Lakes States. The Region generates more than 50 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing output. About one-third of the Great Lakes basin's land is in agricultural use. The eight Great Lakes States account for 30% of nationwide agricultural sales, a $45 billion industry. The international shipping trade annually transports 50 million tons of cargo through the Great Lakes. Main commodities are grain, iron ore, coal, coke, and petroleum products. Almost 50% of this cargo travels to and from oversea ports, especially Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Recreation is also an important part of the economy. The annual value of the commercial and sport fishery is estimated at over $4.5 billion. The eight Great Lakes States have about 3.7 million registered recreational boats, or about one-third of the Nation's total. The 600-plus State parks in the Region accommodate more than 250 million visitors each year. It has been estimated that nearly 5.5 million hunters spend more than $2.6 billion annually. A four season climate supports many other types of recreation.

The economic potential of the Great Lakes region is closely tied to the health of the ecosystem. The challenge of Great Lakes environmental protection and natural resource management is to balance the use of the resources of this unique ecosystem with its protection, restoration, and conservation.

Our Commitment

Despite their large size, the Great Lakes are sensitive to a wide range of stressors, including toxic pollution, invasive species, and habitat degradation. The USPC is dedicated to combating these and other important stressors in order to carry out our mission to restore and protect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem for the benefit of its citizens and future generations. In addition, the USPC will strive to ensure that the Great Lakes Region does not adversely affect other ecosystems, outside and/or downstream of the Basin. The USPC has been working to address these problems since the early 1990's, following the development of the previous Great Lakes Strategy. This Strategy is a re-commitment that expands upon and incorporates lessons learned from that endeavor.

The USPC fully supports the achievement of the goals, objectives, and actions set forth in this Strategy and will use it to monitor and evaluate progress. The near-term goals, objectives, and actions are intended to be ambitious but achievable given current funding, resources, and regulatory requirements. Recognizing that governmental agencies' budgets are appropriated annually or biennially, successful implementation will depend, in part, on continued adequate funding and resources and on-going implementation and enforcement of current regulatory requirements. The mid-term goals, objectives, and actions represent the USPC’s assessment of reasonable progress over a longer time frame, while recognizing that there is a significant degree of uncertainty involved with protecting and restoring a large, dynamic ecosystem such as the Great Lakes. The USPC will review and adjust these mid-term targets, as appropriate, to manage protection and restoration efforts in an adaptive manner. The Strategy should not be construed as a commitment by the U.S. government for additional funding and resources for its implementation. Nor does it represent a commitment by the U.S. government to adopt new regulations. In future meetings, where warranted, the USPC will carefully consider and recommend corrective measures to facilitate Strategy implementation. The USPC will update the Strategy periodically. International issues will be discussed between the USPC and Canadian counterparts at Binational Executive Committee (BEC) meetings, a similar high-level forum with representatives from both countries, which are typically conducted twice a year.

Our Long Term Vision

The people of the Great Lakes Region will know we have been successful in our environmental protection efforts when the need to issue health advisories for fish consumption, beaches, or drinking water is eliminated; the aquatic environment supports a balanced, self-sustaining fishery; the full range of native species, natural communities and ecological systems are restored and protected; land use and water quantity decisions are made with a comprehensive understanding of the environment; and environmental and economic prosperity are maintained in a sustainable balance.

This long term vision can be expressed simply, as follows:


  • The Great Lakes Basin is a healthy naturalenvironment for wildlife and people.
  • All Great Lakes beaches are open for swimming.
  • All Great Lakes fish are safe to eat.
  • The Great Lakes are protected as a safe source of drinking water.

Our Collective Goals and Priorities

In keeping with our mission and long-term vision for the Great Lakes, the member agencies of the USPC will work together to protect and restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Accordingly, we have expressed our strategic priorities under four major goals:

  1. Chemical Integrity - Reduce toxic substances in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem, with an emphasis on persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBTs) substances, so that all organisms are protected. Over time, these substances will be virtually eliminated. Maintain an appropriate nutrient balance in the Great Lakes to ensure aquatic ecosystem health.

  2. Physical Integrity - Protect and restore the physical integrity of the Great Lakes, supporting habitats of healthy and diverse communities of plants, fish and other aquatic life, and wildlife in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Protect Great Lakes water as a regional natural resource from non-sustainable diversions and exports. Promote improved land use practices and the enhancement of the Great Lakes Basin as a source of recreation and economic prosperity.

  3. Biological Integrity - Protect human and biological health. Restore and maintain stable, diverse and self-sustaining populations of predominantly native fish and other aquatic life, wildlife, and plants in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Control and eliminate pathogens and prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species, to protect human health, ecological health, and economic vitality.

  4. Working Together - Work together as an environmental community to establish effective programs, coordinate authorities and resources, report on progress, and hold forums for information exchange and collective decision-making, so the Great Lakes are protected and the objectives of the GLWQA are achieved. This last goal acknowledges the management and institutional challenges to effectively coordinate programs and authorities to achieve the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes.

Under each of the four goals, this Strategy identifies major environmental challenges facing the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Each section, which represents a specific environmental challenge, provides a description of the issue, lists the major current or future governmental program(s) to address the issue, sets forth an ambitious objective(s), which typically includes a date and a measurable environmental outcome, and lists specific key actions to achieve or support the objective(s). Some of the key actions in a particular section may support a variety of environmental objectives in the Strategy, but are listed only once to avoid redundancy.


Jump to main content.