Great Lakes

A Great Win for the Great Lakes: A Historic Victory for the Environment and Economy

A single policy decision will dramatically improve conservation for the largest freshwater body on Earth.

In December of 2016, the International Joint Commission of the U.S. and Canada unanimously approved Plan 2014 — a bold effort to change the management of the Moses Saunders Dam to work with the power of nature rather than against it.

With just the flip of a few switches in Massena, New York and Cornwall, Ontario, water flowing from the dam will vary just enough to more closely mirror seasonal ebbs and flows: A small change for a big impact. This single policy decision will dramatically improve conservation in the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater body on Earth.

The transformation is similar to one we are seeing on the Colorado River. Once one of our nation’s most powerful rivers, for years the Colorado has been siphoned off for agriculture, industry, cities and other uses to the point that it no longer reached the sea. But after water returned to the final miles of the Colorado’s dry channel for the first time in more than a decade, signs of new life sprouted up almost immediately.

In Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, too, the effort to bring the “pulse of life” back has demanded extraordinary collaboration and promises to help nature and communities rebound. That same level of collaboration for nature is happening in places around the globe — and nature needs it now more than ever.


The Moses-Saunders Power Dam, short for Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam, is a dam on the Saint Lawrence River straddling the border between the United States and Canada.

As 2017 begins, Plan 2014 will breathe new life into a body of water the size of New Jersey, bringing new hope to both the plants and animals that live within it and the people who rely on it for drinking water, food, recreation, power, jobs and so much more.

To fully grasp the impact, let’s take a look at the numbers.

  • 64,000 acres — 100 square miles — of valuable wetlands will be restored, making it the largest wetlands restoration effort in the United States outside of the Florida Everglades.
  • An increase of $12 million annually in economic value for New York will result through new hydroelectric production, outdoor recreation and tourism.
  • Plan 2014 received unprecedented bipartisan support, including that of more than 36,000 individuals; 50 outdoor and environmental organizations; 23 New York towns and counties; and dozens of businesses, international policymakers and elected officials.

The Nature Conservancy is no stranger to working with many diverse partners to implement large-scale water management transformations. We know that improving outdated infrastructure that’s been in place for decades takes patience and perseverance.

Together with a broad coalition of conservation groups and experts, The Nature Conservancy has worked relentlessly toward this day with state and federal governments, elected officials from both parties, environmentalists, hunters and anglers, outdoor enthusiasts and industries — for almost 20 years.

We had to learn a great deal about how to harness the power of nature to address the varied concerns of many stakeholders. We had to form plans, compromise, revise plans and revise plans again. The solution had to help protect shoreline property owners from flooding, allow species like Northern pike and black terns to access new and improved habitat, pump out clean energy, meet needs including recreation and shipping, and contribute to community prosperity.

Balancing these goals is a tremendous feat but one that a lake as great as Lake Ontario is capable of achieving—with help, of course, from a large team of committed people.

Plan 2014 has been described as an east of the Mississippi equivalent to restoring the Colorado River. Like the Colorado, Lake Ontario was once a mighty freshwater resource, and it will be again. This is an example of The Nature Conservancy at its best, working at the local, state, federal and bi-national levels with leadership provided by staff from across the organization to deliver results that make a difference for water on a global scale.


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