Great Lakes Final
Containing nearly 20% of the earth’s fresh water, the Great Lakes represent the largest freshwater system in the world, creating unique conditions that support a wealth of biological diversity. Several habitat types can be found in the basin including forests, wetlands, and dunes, which serve as home to more than 3,500 species of plants and animals. The Great Lakes are also an important resource for humans, providing recreation, food, and drinking water for 40 million people.

Unfortunately, human activities are negatively impacting the basin. For example, nutrients from agriculture and toxic chemicals from industry have drained into the basin, resulting in the loss of species, which adversely impacts the basin ecosystem and poses an ongoing threat to the biological diversity in the basin.

As a result, the biodiversity of species and ecosystems in the Great Lakes basin has suffered over the years–in fact, they are now deemed imperiled on a global scale. What’s more, the Illinois portion of Lake Michigan is impaired, failing to support its “designated uses,” including fish consumption, aesthetic quality, and primary human contact (e.g., swimming) along the Illinois shoreline.

To address these dire situations, Illinois’ aquatic natural resources including wildlife and habitat should be protected, and Illinois laws should fully protect Lake Michigan water and habitat.

Current Laws
While there is still much work to be done, there have been several legislative successes in protecting Illinois water so far.
The Clean Water Act:
  • The primary federal law governing water pollution, with the objective of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters by preventing pollution, providing for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands.
  • States may establish designated uses for water, and must establish water quality standards to protect those uses.
The Clean Water Rule:
The rule more precisely defines and predictably determines the scope of “waters of the United States” protected under the Clean Water Act. It clearly protects the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources from pollution and degradation.
Total Maximum Daily Load:
Under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, jurisdictions with impaired waters—waters too polluted or otherwise too degraded to meet water quality standards—are required to establish priority rankings for their impaired waters and develop TMDLs for each. A TMDL is the calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still safely meet water quality standards.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF):
A federal program to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the nation. The program works in partnership with state and local efforts to acquire and protect holdings and expansions in our national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national trails, and BLM areas. LWCF grants to states support the acquisition and development of state and local parks and recreational facilities.
Microbeads Ban:
Section 52.5 of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act prohibits the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in Illinois of any personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size. When consumers use personal care products such as facial scrubs and toothpaste containing microbeads, the beads are rinsed down the drain and into our sewer systems. Because of their small size and buoyancy, microbeads escape treatment by sewage plants and are discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans. These microbeads then absorb toxic chemicals which can be eaten by fish and wildlife.
Great Lakes Initiative:
Also known as the “Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System,” the initiative is a comprehensive plan between the EPA and Great Lakes states to restore the health of the Great Lakes. The initiative includes criteria for states to use when setting water quality standards for 29 pollutants, including bioaccumulative chemicals of concern, and prohibits the use of mixing zones for these toxic chemicals.
Great Lakes Compact:
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is a legally binding interstate compact between Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The compact details how the states will manage the use of the Great Lakes Basin’s water supply and is the means by which each state will implement its commitments under the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement that also includes the Premiers of Ontario and Quebec. The Council of Great Lakes Governors serves as secretariat to the Governors’ Compact Council created by the Compact. Illinois is exempt from certain provisions of the compact pertaining to new or increased withdrawals or diversions from the Great Lakes.
Our Vision
Illinois laws should fully protect Lake Michigan water and habitat, and ensure that water is used and returned efficiently and appropriately.
Funding should be made available for aquatic habitat restoration, and for identifying and protecting near-shore habitat. To date, Illinois has been a leader in policies to reduce invasive exotic species spread; however, there are restrictions on the statewide sale and distribution of only four of the most common and dominant non-native species found in Illinois. Because the prevention of invasive species before establishment is less costly and more effective than post-introduction control, state policies should be implemented that are effective and consistent towards stopping the spread of invasive species.
Proactive clean water policies serve Illinois citizens by protecting their drinking water and one of their most cherished recreational areas.
Lake Michigan is a highly valued natural feature that is routinely used for recreation such as paddling, boating, swimming, and fishing. Without sufficient clean water policies, current designated uses such as drinking water and recreation will need to be reduced or eliminated to protect human health.
Learn More and Take Action

US EPA’s report on Conservation of Biological Diversity in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem: Issues and Opportunities.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes is a great resource for learning more about the Great Lakes and provides a list of action items for how you can help!

Great Lakes Initiative: In 1995, EPA and the Great Lakes states agreed to a comprehensive plan to restore the health of the Great Lakes. The Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System, also known as the Great Lakes Initiative, includes criteria for states to use when setting water quality standards.

The Nature Conservancy – Great Lakes Project: Provides an interactive map of the 94,000 square miles covered by the Great Lakes.

Prairie Rivers Network is Illinois’ advocate for clean water and healthy rivers. They work to reduce water pollution, preserve river habitat and flow, and promote river stewardship through the following programs and campaigns.

Shedd Aquarium:
High Stakes of the Great Lakes – series by the Shedd Aquarium:

Shedd’s Great Lakes research

Shedd’s Great Lakes action days

Partners for Parks and Wildlife

Partners for Parks and Wildlife (PPW) is a grassroots coalition that is dedicated to secure and increase funding for open space and park acquisition, natural area preservation, wildlife habitat protection and recreational opportunities in Illinois.

Learn More About Climate Change

The U.S. EPA’s website on climate change was once a great resource for basic scientific information on the topic and we look forward to the day that it is again. Until then, the City of Chicago is making sure its citizens have access to research and information.


One of the simplest ways to donate to the IEC is by contributing through EarthShare in your workplace charity campaign .