What U.S. and Canada Won’t Say in the ‘State of the Great Lakes’ Reports


Above: The cover of the State of the Great Lakes Report 2022 published by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Office of the Great Lakes.


Reading the two State of the Great Lakes reports published last year— one by the Canadian and U.S. governments and one by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Office of the Great Lakes—you are left with the impression of earnest, caring, scientifically grounded public servants working toward a globally significant success story.

It’s an accurate impression. Most public servants involved in Great Lakes restoration and protection care deeply about their mission. Stories tucked into the Michigan report about cleanup of toxic hotspots, improvements in Great Lakes literacy, and creation of an electric boat charging network are encouraging testimony that many people are mobilized to guard these shared waters. 

It’s jarring to read that the overall condition of the Great Lakes is “fair and unchanging,”

It’s jarring, then, to read in the same reports that the overall condition of the Great Lakes is “fair and unchanging,” that only two of the lakes—Lake Superior and Lake Huron—are considered in good condition, Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario are in fair condition, and that Lake Erie in poor shape.

How can this be when so many human resources are being poured into Great Lakes rehabilitation each year? 

That’s where governmental State of the Great Lakes reports fall down. It is not that governments don’t know what’s going wrong. They just won’t talk about it.

That’s where governmental State of the Great Lakes reports fall down. It is not that governments don’t know what’s going wrong. They just won’t talk about it.

An example is the Lake Erie classification. “Despite a productive walleye fishery, elevated nutrient concentrations and algal problems are persistent problems.” 

Translation: Too much farm animal waste and fertilizer is washing into tributaries of western Lake Erie, fueling the algal blooms. Factory farms are the primary culprit.

Translation: Too much farm animal waste and fertilizer is washing into tributaries of western Lake Erie, fueling the algal blooms. Factory farms are the primary culprit.

Anyone close to Lake Erie work knows this. But putting this inconvenient fact in a State of the Great Lakes report will generate backlash. The farm lobby, on those rare occasions it admits to being part of the problem, says hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are needed to reward farmers to do the right thing.

What does it say about the economic model of agriculture today that it is bound to degrade our waters unless taxpayers shoulder the cost?

What does it say about the economic model of agriculture today that it is bound to degrade our waters unless taxpayers shoulder the cost?

This is exactly the kind of adult conversation that State of the Great Lakes reports should foster. Instead, due to political sensitivities, the casual reader is left perplexed. 

Perhaps it’s time for citizens of the United States and Canada to publish their own State of the Great Lakes reports that speak truth to power.

If the governments won’t state frankly what is wrong and what needs to be done about it, perhaps it’s time for citizens of the United States and Canada to publish their own State of the Great Lakes reports that speak truth to power.

One comment on “What U.S. and Canada Won’t Say in the ‘State of the Great Lakes’ Reports

  1. Crusader Truth on

    “What does it say about the economic model of agriculture today that it is bound to degrade our waters unless taxpayers shoulder the cost?” It says that we’re all responsible for creating the monster. The only alternative to taxpayer-funded agricultural subsidies to cover the cost required to protect water quality is paying higher prices at the grocery store. Your choice.

    Reply

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