Great Lakes In Trouble; Can We Save Them?

Despite the progress of a decades-long effort to revive the Great Lakes, the bodies of water are still in serious trouble, a U.S.-Canadian agency stated on Tuesday May 14.

The statement comes from the International Joint Commission, which advises both the U.S. and Canada on problems faced by waterways shared by both countries. The commission said efforts by both the U.S. and Canada to restore the lakes have had mixed results.

"While sustained governmental and public efforts have measurably improved Great Lakes water quality, rapid reduction in ice cover and the resurgence of some pollutants like excess nutrients are among the indicators currently raising concerns," the commission stated.

The International Joint Commission's report involves 16 measures of the lakes with regards to their biological, chemical and physical properties. The report states that, while concentrations of most chemicals found in the lakes' wildlife have decreased, levels of new chemicals have risen. Phosphorous from fertilizer runoff, for instance, has caused harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie.

"I'm starting to see algae in places I've never seen it before," Lana Pollack, chairwoman of the U.S. delegation to the Commission, said.

An additional problem has been the arrival of invasive species in the lakes, including zebra and quagga mussels, which have been blamed for unraveling food webs and clogging water intake pipes.

Since the U.S. and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972, the commission has given regular reports. The new report focuses on the time since 1987, when the agreement was updated to include an emphasis on lowering toxins. Another version of the agreement was signed in 2012.

"We've proved that when we put our minds to it, we can clean up the lakes," Pollack said. "When we take our eye off the ball, we go backward."

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