Jump to main content.


Great Lakes Strategy 2002

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

Biological Integrity: Protecting Human Health and the Ecosystem's Species

Goal: To protect human health and restore and maintain stable, diverse, and self-sustaining populations of plants, fish and other aquatic life, and wildlife in the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

Our first two goals - reducing toxic pollution and protecting habitats - will improve the fundamental capacity of the Great Lakes Ecosystem to sustain life. This goal addresses other actions needed to protect human health and the health of other species in the Ecosystem. The public requires safe drinking water and clean beaches, as well as clear warnings about periods when these resources may be compromised, to ensure their well-being. Other species that share this Ecosystem need to be protected from human activities, such as the introduction of new non-indigenous invasive species. The following actions are needed to ensure our continuing enjoyment of all these resources.

Human Health Studies

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Great Lakes Human Health Effects Research Program (GLHHERP) has made significant progress in evaluating and reporting the findings that address public health issues from exposure to contaminants in the Basin. The program has been proactive in initiating risk communication and public health intervention strategies in sensitive populations to reduce their exposure to persistent toxic substances. Continued support of our Great Lakes research program is vital to the success of the overall research effort in the Basin and our capacity to address key human health research gaps in the years ahead. Conclusions and finding from these studies will be assessed and will support management actions and research plans.

Key Action:

Continue human health studies under the Great Lakes Human Health Effects Research Program, and make results available to environmental managers and the public.

Maintaining the Great Lakes as a Safe Source of Drinking Water

The Great Lakes have been, and continue to be, an abundant and high quality source of drinking water for millions of people. We must assure that the Great Lakes continue to provide a safe source of drinking water for residents of the Basin. We will work together to carry out several initiatives that will assist us in meeting this goal.

The SOLEC and the American Water Works Association will undertake a joint binational effort to assess the quality of water at 22 drinking water treatment plants around the Lakes. These plants will monitor raw water for parameters such as Total Organic Carbon (TOC), turbidity, and microbial indicators. Measurement of these parameters over time at the U.S. locations will provide a useful snapshot of the untreated water as it enters the drinking water treatment system.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), additional measures will be taken to address the possible formation of disinfection byproducts. The Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule will require most large surface water plants, including those on the Great Lakes, to begin monitoring Total Organic Carbon (TOC) of raw waters by January of 2002. TOC levels are an important indicator of water quality and the potential formation of disinfection byproducts. The Rule requires additional treatments to address disinfection byproducts if TOC standards are exceeded in the raw water intake. This preventative measure will help insure that the subsequently treated water is of a high quality.

The SDWA also requires Source Water Assessments (SWAs) to be completed by 2003 for all public water systems. SWAs are largely qualitative assessments of potential vulnerabilities in the system, identifying intake points, potential contaminant sources, drainage area, etc. SWAs are conducted by the States and Tribes, and implementation measures to reduce vulnerabilities will be carried out by the States, Tribes, and local governments.

Key Action:

Beginning in 2002, USEPA, in cooperation with local utilities, will track water quality at the intake points of selected drinking water treatment plants around the Lakes. Findings will be reported to the public through the biennial SOLEC State of the Lakes report.

Promoting Clean and Healthy Beaches

Most Great Lakes beaches provide a safe and enjoyable location for outdoor recreation and swimming. Past monitoring studies have shown that beach pollution is usually infrequent or confined to areas near pollution sources after a heavy rainfall or where a sewage treatment plant malfunctions. However, recent increases in beach advisories have suggested that there may not be enough information available now to fully define the cause and extent of beach pollution throughout the Basin.

The majority of beach advisories are due to indications of the presence of high levels of harmful microorganisms (e.g., E. coli) found in untreated or partially treated sewage. Sewage enters the water from combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and malfunctioning sewage treatment plants and septic tanks. Untreated storm water runoff from cities and rural areas, which may contain wildlife feces and pet waste, can be an additional source of beach water pollution.

USEPA, in concert with States, eligible Tribes, and local agencies, will implement the newly-passed Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000. The Act requires each State having coastal waters (which includes the Great Lakes) to review current water quality criteria and standards for coastal recreation waters of the State for certain pathogens, and adopt protective water quality standards. The Act authorizes studies and assessments regarding human health impacts of pathogens and the development of indicators for improving detection of pathogens in coastal waters. The Act also provides funding to States and eligible Tribes to develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs, based on criteria outlined in USEPA 's National Beach Guidance and Grant Performance Criteria for Recreational Waters.

Key Objectives:

By 2010, 90% of monitored, high priority Great Lakes beaches will meet bacteria standards more than 95% of the swimming season.

Key Actions:

By 2005, States and local agencies will put into place water quality monitoring and public notification programs that comply with the USEPA National Beaches Guidance at 95% of all high priority Great Lakes beaches.

By 2004 or according to approved TMDL schedules, States and local agencies will evaluate Great Lakes beaches which are closed more than 5% of the swimming season to determine pollutant sources.

By April 2004, all Great Lakes States will adopt bacteria criteria at least as protective as USEPA's Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Bacteria - 1986.

By 2003, there will be pilot projects in the Great Lakes to support research being conducted on better indicators of the potential presence of pathogens, and rapid sampling technologies and techniques for microbial and viral contamination to identify risk before exposure takes place.

Federal, State, Tribal and local government agencies will work to reduce or eliminate closings, understand reasons for closings, and identify pollution sources at all monitored beaches closed more than 5% of the swimming season. USEPA will work with States to target CSOs, SSOs, and CAFOs that may be contributing to these beach closings in order to reduce or eliminate them as a source of pollution, and will target existing technical, administrative, and financial support to States and local agencies to assist in the identification and remediation of pollutant sources.

USEPA will provide tools and available funding to State, local, and Tribal governments to improve infrastructure for monitoring Great Lakes beach water quality, communicating to the public, and implementing actions to reduce closings. Such actions include:

Develop an Internet based site that allows for transfer of information on beach opening status to potential customers from beach managers. Link local Internet based sites to State and USEPA's BEACH Watch websites.

Federal, State, Tribal, and local governments, private companies, and other Great Lakes partners will work collaboratively to develop rapid analytical methods for bacteria (E. coli and Entercoccus faecalis), for protozoa (Cryptosporidium parvium and Giardia Lambia), and for viruses (Norwalk and Rotavirus). As an interim measure, USEPA will support the development of local predictive models based on rain events.

In cooperation with States and local partners, the USGS will continue to pursue research and development in recreational waters on methods to track pathogens and indicators to their sources and will continue to develop predictive models of beach-water quality through Cooperative Water-Resources Investigations Program and other programs.

States’ and local communities’ Coastal Zone Management Programs, in cooperation with NOAA, will assist in providing access to public beaches.

Promoting a Healthy Great Lakes Fishery

The fishery resources of the Great Lakes are held in trust for society and managed through State and Tribal fishery management programs. Fishery resources are managed for their intrinsic value and for their continuing valuable contributions to society. These include such benefits as: a healthy aquatic environment, aesthetic and recreational values, scientific knowledge and economic activity, as well as sufficient stocks of fish for commercial, subsistence, and recreational anglers.

Stressors affecting fishery resources rarely act singly, often having complex interactions, and frequently impact several levels of the aquatic ecosystem. As a consequence, remedial management must address problems on a comprehensive whole-system basis. A natural focus of the fishery agencies, therefore, is the maintenance and development of entire fish communities which can provide improved contributions to society. Such an ecosystem approach requires the protection and rehabilitation of aquatic habitat and fishery management to ensure stable self-sustaining populations. This approach also requires the judicious stocking of hatchery-reared fish to meet public demands for recreational fishing opportunities and to rehabilitate depleted stocks of desirable species.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) is a binational organization whose commissioners are appointed by the U.S. and Canadian Federal governments. It is responsible for the management of sea lampreys in the Great Lakes Basin, supporting fisheries research, and advising the U.S. and Canadian governments on means to improve the productivity of Great Lakes fisheries. The GLFC’s Lake Committees, consisting of representatives of State, Provincial and Tribal Fishery agencies, have developed fish community objectives for each lake.

Key Actions:

Support GLFC Lake Committees' fishery management efforts so that each lake supports a healthy and productive fishery, including naturally reproducing populations of native fish.

[The GLFC Lake Committees’ efforts are consistent with the Annex 1 of the GLWQA, which States that lake trout should be maintained as the top predator in Lake Superior.]

Preventing Unplanned Introductions and Controlling Invasive Species

Invasive species adversely affect both the economy and ecology of the entire Great Lakes Basin, including aquatic, wetland, and terrestrial ecosystems. Over 160 invasive species have entered the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system over the last 150 years. Almost one-third of such species have been introduced since the late 1950's, coinciding with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway system and the associated transport of invasive species in ballast water of commercial vessels. Once in the Great Lakes, these invaders can spread to nearby inland lakes and distant ecosystems, including the vast watershed of the Mississippi River.

[Since 1848, the Chicago River diverts some of the waters of Lake Michigan into the Mississippi River watershed as a means of alleviating water quality concerns in Lake Michigan and to provide a navigation link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.]

The Department of Agriculture has major programs to address invasive species on farmland, but these efforts are narrowly focused and distributed among different units of government on public and private non-agricultural lands. Similarly, authorities and responsibilities for addressing aquatic invasive species are shared among various agencies, with the exception of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission that was specifically created to control the invasive sea lamprey. Since 1991, the Great Lakes Commission has convened the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species which has promoted the coordination of prevention and control efforts. The panel membership is drawn from U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, the eight Great Lakes States and the province of Ontario, tribal authorities, regional agencies, user groups, local communities, tribal authorities, commercial interests, and the university/research community. A Great Lakes Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Species has been recently adopted by the Great Lakes States and Canadian Provinces. The Action Plan includes the goals of preventing introductions, limiting the spread, and minimizing the impacts of aquatic nuisance species. The Action Plan also includes numerous principles, objectives, and strategic actions.

Improved coordination and cooperation of Federal, State, and Tribal efforts will be needed to prevent invasive species from entering and becoming established in the Great Lakes Basin, as well as to research and develop of adaptive management strategies that lessen the ecological and economic impacts caused by invasive species already established in the Great Lakes Basin. The partners to this Strategy will work together through existing institutional arrangements, such as the Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species, and create new initiatives as necessary to advance the prevention, containment, and control of invasive species. The ultimate goal is to eliminate further introductions of invasive species to the Great Lakes Basin.

Key Objectives:

By 2010, substantially reduce the further introduction of invasive species, both aquatic and terrestrial, to the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.

Key Actions:

Ensure that all vessels entering the Great Lakes comply with ballast water management standards developed by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Currently, these standards require open-ocean ballast water exchange where feasible. The USCG is currently developing new, environmentally protective standards to guide the development and implementation of the next generation of ballast water management technologies.

Implement ongoing and new research activities and adaptive strategies to contain and control aquatic and terrestrial species that have already invaded the Great Lakes Basin, in order to reduce their negative impacts on native biota and their habitats.

By 2005, through the cooperative effort between NOAA and other agencies, determine the efficiency of open-water ballast water exchange as the primary method to prevent introductions via ballast water.

By 2005, through the cooperative effort between NOAA, USEPA, USCG, and the Great Lakes shipping industry, determine the potential threat of “no ballast on board” (NOBOB) vessels and prioritize actions to address this issue.

By 2005, further investigate the relative risk from other sources and pathways of introducing new invasive species, including bait fish, recreational boating, cargo, ornamental plants, and aquaculture.

Develop cooperative programs between Federal agencies and representatives of foreign governments to identify potential source regions and pathways and to anticipate and prevent invasive species introductions into the Great Lakes Basin.

Provide information and Great Lakes' perspective to Congress for consideration during the re-authorization of the National Invasive Species Act (NISA), which is expected to occur in 2002, as well as to the International Maritime Organization policy forum, which is currently developing a global policy for ballast water management.

By 2003, develop a framework to integrate and coordinate multi-agency responses, including Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, to address and potentially control new invasive species as soon as they are discovered.

Continue to examine and implement chemical, physical, and biological control methods to address already established species, including the use of barriers, such as the dispersal barrier at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, to restrict the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Continue to support a variety of programs to help recreation boaters ensure that their boats do not transport invasive species via motor props, hull fouling, or in bait tank water.

Continue and expand research to determine the spread and impacts (biological and economic) of invasive species in the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

By 2006, coordinate and enhance the monitoring of high-risk areas for the early detection of invasive species.

 



Jump to main content.