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Great Lakes Commission endorses action plan to address growing water infrastructure crisis in the Great Lakes

Sep 20, 2017 | News and Announcements

Duluth, Minn. – The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) today endorsed a joint action plan to address the growing water infrastructure crisis in the Great Lakes region. The plan outlines actions to address a backlog in needed upgrades and repairs to water-related infrastructure in the eight Great Lakes states and two provinces over the next 20 years — everything from wastewater treatment plants to stormwater pipes and drinking-water filtration systems. This backlog is conservatively estimated to cost $271 billion, and many experts believe that figure is a significant underestimate. The GLC plan also calls for a better understanding the state of regional water infrastructure and the true needs to achieve a 21st century system.

Recent drinking water crises in Toledo, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan, have shined a light on the risks of aging and underfunded water infrastructure across the country. The majority of U.S. water systems are between 50 and 150 years old, and costs to maintain and update them are projected to rise steeply if action is deferred. Additionally, billions of gallons of sewage and untreated stormwater are currently released into the Great Lakes each year from outdated and aging infrastructure.

“Failure to maintain our water infrastructure means flooding, lead in drinking water lines, sewage overflows, business losses and sick communities,” said John Linc Stine, newly elected chair of the GLC and commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “This action plan highlights promising solutions and proposes new approaches and partnerships that will begin to address these regional water infrastructure challenges.”

Great Lakes Commissioners were in Duluth for the 2017 GLC Annual Meeting, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday. At the meeting, the GLC also passed a resolution urging government agencies and research institutions to assess whether existing plans, programs and policies are adequate to protect the Great Lakes basin and its residents from the effects of contaminants of emerging concern, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-8.) and Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith also spoke at the meeting, focusing their remarks on the effects of environmental cleanup on economic revitalization in their state and across the Great Lakes.

The meeting also included presentations on water infrastructure, navigational dredging, agricultural conservation, and preventing the introduction of aquatic invasive species through Chicago area waterways, and a panel that focused on tribal governance of the Great Lakes, featuring speakers from the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The panel discussed ways to better involve Great Lakes tribes in regional management of water resources.

“Native Americans need to be included in decision-making for the Great Lakes,” said Michael Isham, Jr., chairman of GLIFWC. “Seek out elders who have tribal ecological knowledge of the lakes.”

The GLC will next convene March 6-7, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Additional information will be available at www.glc.org.


The Great Lakes Commission, led by chairman John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more at www.glc.org.

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For questions or media inquiries, please contact Beth Wanamaker, beth@glc.org.

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