The Great Lakes are made up of lakes Erie, Ontario, Huron, Michigan and Superior, which were created by melting glaciers during the last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. The Great Lakes are vitally important to aquatic ecology, as they represent 21 percent of the world's surface freshwater. The health and welfare of the Great Lakes is critical to the surrounding lands in both the U.S. and Canada.
The Great Lake Water Quality Agreement between the two great countries was originally established in 1972. It was recently amended in 2012 to better identify and manage current environmental issues, as well as prevent emerging environmental problems from affecting the water quality of the Great Lakes and maintain and modernize the previous settlements held by the agreement. The agreement provides a framework for identifying water quality problems that occur in both countries and implementing actions to improve the water quality in the Great Lakes.
"The Great Lakes represent 21 percent of the world's surface freshwater."
In congruence with the GLWQA, Ontario published The Great Lakes Strategy under the Great Lakes Protection Act, which is also designed to protect and restore the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River Basin. In the U.S., the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, located on the Detroit River, is run by professor at the University of Windsor Daniel Heath. GLIER is a U.S. research facility created to protect the ecosystems of the Great Lakes.
GLIER works with Canada to develop interdisciplinary studies to examine things such as environmental stressors, pollution, climate change, invasive species and fisheries. The hope is that this holistic approach will allow scientists to provide governmental and water-related agencies with clear and simple action plans for regulation and remediation.
Concerns facing the Great Lakes
Invasive species being brought into both the land and aquatic ecosystems has become a major concern for the Great Lakes region. Currently, there are over 180 invasive species calling the Great Lakes and surrounding wetlands home. The Great Lake communities spent over $4.9 billion in the 1990s to control the zebra mussel populations. Asian carp not only threatens organisms in the Great Lakes, but it also has begun to damage the Mississippi River Basin and other connected water ways. Chicago recently put in an electric barrier to prevent Asian carp from leaving the lakes.
Increasing temperatures from global warming have also threatened water quality in the Great Lakes. Warming water increases the growth of many algae species, including cladophora, a green algae that is normally part of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Cladophora populations have recently been found in large clumps on the beaches, which have become breeding grounds for E.Coli and B-botulinum, causing the beaches to close down. Cladophora caused the deaths of over 900 loons while migrating across Lake Michigan. Research showed that the loons died because of bio-magnification of botulism found in the algae which moved up the trophic levels. Currently, methods are still being developed for monitoring harmful algae blooms and the toxins they produce.
Monitoring, reporting and enforcement
The Great Lakes are a very important freshwater resource for North America as well as the world. Environmental consultants, water quality consultants and ecological consulting services will be responsible for monitoring harmful pollutants, water quality, hydrology, biological communities and the impacts of global warming on the lakes. In addition, every three years, these groups will develop a report that describes the actions being done to protect the lakes as well as the progress of implementation and the results of the programs.
The Great Lakes Protection Act provides monetary fines for failing to comply with the law. After the first offense, an individual can be fined up to $25,000 for each day on which the offense occurred or continued. If there are further offenses, an individual can be fined up to $50,000, and corporations up to $100,000. These fines are designed to prevent people from causing damage to the quality of water in the Great Lakes.