Great Lakes Compact


Despite their importance, the Great Lakes traditionally have lacked the protection they need.

From the cold, blue depths of Lake Superior to the windswept dunes dotting the shores of Lake Ontario, the Great Lakes are a defining treasure of our natural world. 

While the area is perhaps best known and cherished for its natural beauty, the Great Lakes are a globally important resource containing 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and 95 percent of North America’s supply. 

Bridge over Troubled Waters

Despite their importance, the Great Lakes traditionally have lacked the protection they need.  But efforts in the 1990s to divert water to the western United States and abroad prompted bordering states to unite under the Great Lakes Compact, which:

  • Establishes principles for determining how much water can be extracted for business and other uses while empowering individual states to establish rules to stay within the guidelines.
  • Establishes protections for Great Lakes waters within each state.
  • Ensures that authority over the lakes' waters remains in the Great Lakes Basin.
  • Establishes a process to return water to the Great Lakes in better condition than it was withdrawn.

Adopted by Great Lakes states, ratified by Congress and signed by the President in 2008, the Compact requires that each state adopt policies for managing water use, giving them flexibility while requiring that common standards be met.

In the Buckeye State

Ohio lawmakers may vote in 2011 on rules to implement the Great Lakes Compact, rules that will help determine the future quantity and quality of Ohio's water.  To help inform the discussion over Ohio's rules, the Conservancy developed a scientific model to measure the impact of water withdrawals from tributaries to Lake Erie.  The Nature Conservancy also was a member of the Advisory Council, made up of stakeholders, to make recommendations on how to govern water withdrawals.  The council agreed to many rules that will protect Lake Erie, but failed to reach a consensus on Conservancy-proposed thresholds that would provide enhanced protection for Ohio's highest quality streams.  The Conservancy plans to work with the members of the General Assembly to include adequate protection for these high-quality streams in the legislation.     


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