Second Binational Poll Reaffirms that Citizens Feel Great Lakes Protection is Critical


Lakes Seen as Valuable for Recreation, Drinking Water and Essential to Region’s Economy

Eighty eight percent of respondents believe protecting the Great Lakes is highly important and are willing to pay more to ensure their restoration, according to the second large survey conducted on public perception of the world’s largest freshwater system. The International Joint Commission (IJC) sponsored the survey, which was completed by its Great Lakes Water Quality Board in January 2018 and is summarized in the poll report released today. The first survey was completed in late 2015. The 4,250 respondents to the 2018 poll live in the eight Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and in the Canadian Province of Ontario, and also include members from the region’s First Nations, Tribes and Metis.

Key survey responses include:

* A whopping 88 percent feel it is essential to protect the Great Lakes from a variety of threats, including pollution and aquatic invasive species, up three percent from the 2015 poll. While 39 percent believe all sectors of society can play a role in these efforts, 23 percent and 18 percent list federal and state/provincial governments, respectively, as responsible for the lakes’ health.

* An even higher 89 percent feel it is important to protect the lakes for recreational purposes, even if they personally do not use them, up three percent from the 2015 poll. Thirty five percent of those who use the lakes for recreational purposes have enjoyed swimming or beach visits, while 27 percent enjoy fishing and boating of various kinds. Lake Michigan is the most visited lake, followed by lakes Ontario, Erie, Superior and Huron.

* More than half of respondents believe there are too few regulations to protect the lakes, compared with 46 percent in the 2015 poll, and 55 percent said they would be willing to have greater protection of the lakes through regulation even if it meant an increase in the cost of some consumer products. Fifty three percent feel these additional protections would have either no impact (30 percent) or a positive impact (23 percent) on jobs and the economy, while 27 percent felt there would be negative implications and 20 percent were undecided.

* A large majority of residents believe the Great Lakes should be protected for the benefit of fish and wildlife (79 percent) as well as their economic significance to the region (78 percent), and their importance to human health now and for future generations (74 and 77 percent, respectively).

* The importance of individual responsibility for protecting the health of the lakes is cited by 80 percent of respondents, up two percent from the 2015 poll, including such actions as being careful of what they dispose down the drain (83 percent), conserving water (74 percent), engaging in online forums and interest groups who address Great Lakes issues (37 percent) and contacting elected and government officials to express their concerns (32 percent). While 30 percent were unsure what steps they could take in 2015, 25 percent were unsure in the 2018 poll.  

* A large majority, 80 percent, feel it is important that an organization like the IJC exists to facilitate cooperation in Canada and the United States on issues impacting the Great Lakes, and to ensure that the goals and programs outlined in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are accomplished. This majority increased from 74 percent in the 2015 poll.

"It is clear that the Great Lakes community cares deeply about the resource, is prepared to accept increased costs to protect it, and recognizes personal responsibility to be part of the solution," said Great Lakes Water Quality Board US Co-Chair David Ullrich. Rob de Loë, Canadian co-chair of the board, said, "This second poll shows that water quality is a top-of-mind issue for citizens in the basin, and serves as a reminder of the enormous shared obligation to protect and enhance the lakes."

Two members of the IJC’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board and its Engagement Work Group – Mark  Mattson, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Kelsey Leonard of the Shinnecock Indian Nation – will host a webinar at 1:30 p.m. today to discuss the poll’s findings further. Register here to participate and contribute your thoughts and questions to the discussion. 

*Download audio from the webinar; slides from the webinar

The IJC was established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the Governments of Canada and the United States prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters they share. The Great Lakes Water Quality Board assists the IJC in monitoring progress by both countries to achieve the goals set out in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and provides opportunities for public consultation and participation throughout the Great Lakes region. More information can be found at

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For more information:

Sally Cole-Misch, IJC Great Lakes Regional Office  519-257-6733   

Raj Bejankiwar, IJC Great Lakes Regional Office    519-257-6711