State of the Great Lakes Reporting

The goal of State of the Great Lakes Reporting process is to report on progress towards achieving the overall purpose of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement "to restore and maintain the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem" through reporting on ecosystem conditions and trends.

A key component of State of the Great Lakes Reporting is the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences (SOLEC), hosted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and Environment Canada (EC) on behalf of the two countries. These conferences are a culmination of scientific information gathered from a wide variety of sources and engage a variety of organizations. The conferences report on the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem and the major factors impacting it, and provide a forum for exchange of this information amongst Great Lakes decision-makers. Another goal of the conference is to provide information to people in all levels of government, corporate, and not-for-profit sectors that make decisions that affect the lakes.

In the year following each conference, the Governments prepare a report on the state of the Great Lakes based in large part upon the conference process. To date, these conferences have been held in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 2008, and 2011.

This State of the Great Lakes 2011 Highlights report is a synopsis of the environmental indicator reports prepared for SOLEC 2011 held in Erie, Pennsylvania, October 26-27, 2011. The indicators assess water quality (chemical integrity), species that depend on the lakes (biological integrity), and surrounding landscapes and natural processes (physical integrity).

Water quality status is fair and the trend is deteriorating.

The overall status for water quality in the Great Lakes is fair. There are currently low concentrations of toxic chemicals in offshore waters, and a decreased concentration of some legacy chemicals, such as PCBs and DDT, in fish. However, not all water quality guidelines are being met. Despite a mix of trends for the various monitored contaminants, the overall water quality trend is deteriorating. Nearshore symptoms of nutrient enrichment persist and algal trends are worsening in some areas of the Great Lakes. Phosphorus concentrations in offshore waters are becoming too low in some lakes to support productive food webs. Increasing mercury concentrations in fish are being observed in some areas of the lakes, after years of steady decline.

Aquatic-dependent life status is fair and the trend is deteriorating.

The overall status of aquatic-dependent life in the Great Lakes is fair because many locations support self-sustaining fish populations and a healthy food web; however, other areas are degraded. Predatory fish populations are being fairly well maintained through stocking programs, and in some cases natural reproduction, but most populations do not meet target levels. The overall deteriorating trend for aquatic-dependent life is a result of decreasing preyfish populations, the declining population of Diporeia (a source of food for small fish), and the declining populations of many coastal wetland species. The food web has been drastically altered. No new non-native species have been detected since 2006; however, the impacts of established invasive species continue to harm the ecosystem.

Landscapes and natural processes status is fair and the trend is improving.

The overall status of landscapes and natural processes of the Great Lakes is fair. Despite degradation in some areas, many watersheds and tributaries continue to serve as important spawning and nursery habitat for Great Lakes fish and continue to provide important functions such as water purification. The overall trend is improving because dam mitigation and barrier removal projects are increasing habitat connectivity for fish; forested lands in lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan basins are increasingly slightly; and some rivers and streams are exhibiting more stable streamflow conditions. Climate change impacts on natural processes of the Great Lakes, such as water level fluctuation and ice cover, are being observed.

This State of the Great Lakes 2011 Highlights report is derived from a more detailed technical State of the Great Lakes 2011 report (which contains the full indicator reports) and will be available in the fall of 2013. The 2011 Highlights report also includes a summary of conditions and issues in each Great Lake and the International Section of the St. Lawrence River.

State of the Great Lakes Reporting

For previous State of the Great Lakes reports or other SOLEC-related documents, please visit the Great Lakes Publications catalogue.

Related Links

  • is a collaboration between EC and the USEPA, to provide a single window for information on binational Great Lakes programs.


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