Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, accounting for a third of the world’s fresh surface water. With 11,000 miles of shoreline, America’s inland coast is also its longest. The lakes support a vibrant local economy of tourism, recreation, and industry. For example, the fishing industry alone is worth $7 billion. The region is not only vital to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people and fish, they also provide critical breeding, feeding, resting, and migrating areas for waterfowl, colonial nesting birds, and many other species of migratory birds.

Despite all of their power, majesty, and importance, the lakes are not impervious to harm. In the past, the lakes have been put under tremendous strain and mistreated for economic gain. But today, we know that healthy lakes mean healthy communities and healthy economies. Today, the lakes are facing new challenges from pollution to climate change, but Midwestern communities are finding creative ways to clean up old issues, build resilient infrastructure, and create jobs in the green economy. Future generations depend on our collective efforts to protect our lakes.

What is ELPC Doing?

  • Protecting the Great Lakes from Oil – Under the straits of Mackinaw lies a ticking time bomb. The 60+ year old Enbridge Line 5 carries over 20 million gallons of oil every day along the lake bed between Lakes Michigan & Huron. A rupture could devastate the drinking water of millions, but the U.S. Coast Guard admitted under oath in 2017 that they were unprepared for such a disaster. ELPC and the National Wildlife Federation are suing the Coast Guard to remove the pipeline, unless they can show they could adequately clean up an oil spill. Not far away, Enbridge Line 3 poses a similar threat to the headwaters of the Mississippi and the shores of Lake Superior. ELPC is fighting to save these precious waterways and protect the taxpayers from funding their cleanup.
  • Preventing the growth of toxic algal blooms. In the summer of 2014, Toledo’s drinking water supply to nearly half a million people was shut down for 72 hours, crippled by deadly microcystin bacteria. Like in many smaller lakes across the Midwest, green clouds of harmful algae have flourished in Lake Erie in recent years. These algae blooms are caused by runoff pollution from the booming industrial agricultural sector, particularly concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the Maumee river watershed, which produce more manure than the land can handle. Heavier rains and warmer lake waters further fuel this algal growth. ELPC is monitoring CAFO growth and fighting in the courts to reduce pollution in Indiana and Ohio.
  • Preserving funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The Great Lakes face many challenges, with outdated infrastructure, threats of invasive species, and eroding habitat. GLRI was instituted in 2010 to save these essential freshwater resources, and recent studies have shown that each dollar spent in restoration nets $3.35 in additional economic activity through 2036. Yet every budget proposed by President Trump has zeroed-out or cut GLRI by 90%. ELPC is a vocal supporter of critical great lakes funding.
  • Conserving special places like Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Thunder Bay is the only freshwater marine sanctuary in the nation, but the Trump Administration has threatened to shrink its size by placing the sanctuary under “review.” ELPC has organized a bipartisan group of senators to speak out in defense of this popular slice of Lake Huron off the northeast coast of Michigan, which has proven beneficial for the environment and good for the economy.
  • Protecting the lakes from invasive species. With our colleagues, ELPC is working to stop the growth of detrimental species like bighead & silver carp. They have come to dominate streams along the southern Mississippi watershed, but we can prevent them from reaching the Great Lakes if states act now.
  • Blocking pollution from reaching the lakes. ELPC public interest attorneys regularly represent grassroots clients in cases and policy campaigns to protect the lakes from runoff, wastewater, industrial discharges, and other sources of pollution. For example, ELPC successfully worked to stop the S.S. Badger ferry from dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan in 2015.


Congressional research Service Report for Congress: Drilling in the Great Lakes: Background and Issues (2008)
EWG & ELPC Report: Explosion of Unregulated Factory Farms in Maumee Watershed Fuels Lake Erie’s Toxic Blooms
Freshwater Stories


Oil & Water Don’t Mix – Michigan Environmental Council
Alliance for the Great Lakes
Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition
For Love of Water (FLOW)

Recent News –

Star Tribune: Enbridge says Line 3 pipeline project in Minnesota to be delayed a year (3/2/19)
Wisconsin Public Radio: Federal Judge Sends Oil Spill Response Plans Back to Pipeline Agency (4/1/19)
Toledo Blade: Study indicates steep rise in factory farms along Maumee River (4/9/19)
Great Lakes Now (Detroit Public TV): Will new governor end Illinois’ inertia over Asian carp solution? (3/18/19)
Detroit Free Press: Great Lakes Basin warming faster than other parts of country, new study finds (3/21/19)

ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

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