The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement commits the U.S. and Canada "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem." The journey that Great Lakes society has travelled since the first Agreement was signed 26 years ago has been full of success stories and positive signs that the lakes are returning to better health. It clearly reflects public concern over the health and welfare of the environment, as well as the courage and willingness of governments to deal with environmental problems of the Great Lakes.
Despite these tremendous and positive efforts, society has not gone far enough. The journey is not complete and we must persist in our effort to restore and protect the Great Lakes. The challenge is how to move forward. How do we get from here to there? The advice in this report provides a guide to do just that.
A major focus of the Commission since its Fifth Biennial Report in 1990 has been the need to address the issue of persistent toxic substances. It has equally recognized the impact of many other stressors, including land use patterns, shoreline development, habitat modification, biological contamination and nutrient input. All must still be considered as society strives to move from our present situation to the clean and healthy environment in which we all want to live. However, the issue of persistent toxic substances has not been resolved and the Commission again stresses the importance of achieving virtual elimination.
The Ninth Biennial Report includes 19 targeted recommendations that, when implemented, will allow the Commission to measure progress toward the Agreement's purpose and help society move from here to there. Committed research, surveillance and monitoring, and the development and application of ecosystem models are essential elements from which to measure and define progress. Focused efforts on dioxins, furans, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and radioactivity are a starting point. Air pollution, contaminated sediment and agricultural practices need to be addressed through detailed work plans, schedules and benchmarks toward defined goals. The restoration of Areas of Concern requires a renewed commitment and dedication of resources to overcome specific obstacles to progress.
Making progress requires strong government leadership, coupled with active public awareness and support of environmental issues and the programs in place to address them. Communication, public participation and productive partnerships are key. Our understanding of the concept of governance continues to change and so must institutional structures and society's way of thinking. Transition to a cleaner and more environmentally benign society entails costs and risks and will involve an orderly process along a designed path to move toward sustainable development. This report recognizes that all stakeholders in the Great Lakes basin have roles and responsibilities to ensure that restoration and protection of the Great Lakes become reality.
"The government is . . . reporting on some of the things we're doing, but really it's going to require everybody to work together; these problems don't get easier, they continue to get harder. . . . if we all work together, we can make the job move forward, we can complete the job and we need to do that for our children."