The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was enacted in 1972 between the United States and Canada “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.” Over the years, the pact has undergone several revisions when the Great Lakes faced differing threats, such as phosphorus or toxic substances. Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Cannon announced their commitment to “modernize” the pact.
The environment of the Great Lakes region is blessed with huge forests and wilderness areas, rich agricultural land, hundreds of tributaries and thousands of smaller lakes, and extensive mineral deposits. The region’s glacial history and the tremendous influence of the lakes themselves create unique conditions that support a wealth of biological diversity, including more than 130 rare species and ecosystems…Over the course of history, many types of pollution have inflicted and been reduced in the region, yet significant challenges remain. These range from threats to divert water out of the Great Lakes basin to the introduction of nonindigenous invasive species and airborne toxins into the basin.
We have to recommit ourselves to strengthening this partnership. It’s crucial that we honor the terms of the Great Lakes agreement as it stands today, but we also have to update it to reflect new knowledge, new technology and, unfortunately, new threats.
That newest threat is climate change. The Great Lakes also continues to be negatively impacted by “increased population and urbanization, land use practices, invasive species, new chemicals,” according to the Environment News Service.
I grew up near the Great Lakes and spent time on the shores and waters of Lake Erie. I remember the beauty and the pollution of the region. Seeing dead fish floating in contaminated waters near industrial sites during these formative years contributed to my environmental values today.