Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

A SWOT Analysis of the Great Lakes Water Quality Protocol 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Opportunity

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

A SWOT Analysis of the Great Lakes Water Quality Protocol 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Opportunity

Article excerpt


The Laurentian Great Lakes is the largest freshwater body in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the world's total freshwater (Environment Canada and US EPA, 2004). It is the most important water source in North America having social, economic and environmental significance. The lakes' basin houses 40 million North Americans. However, while the lakes have provided social and economic benefits to the residents, there have been the antithetical harmful anthropogenic effects that triggered the degradation of the lakes ecosystem. Recognition of this effect of humans on the lakes led to the signing of the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Implementation of the Agreement was credited with environmental benefits such as reduction of phosphorous inputs into Lake Erie and the concomitant reduction in eutrophication.

Despite this success, the lakes ecosystem is still being degraded. Some argue (Manno and Krantzberg, 2008) that the snail pace of amending the agreement, long after the stipulated time frame is one contributing factor. The calls to amend the 1987 agreement were first answered with the commencement of the review process in 2004 and a review report issued in 2007 (, 2013). This finally culminated in an amended Great Lakes Water Quality Protocol in 2012 (The Protocol). Since the signing of the Protocol on September 7, 2012, there has been no comprehensive review of its content to date. This paper aims to undertake that review with a Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis that can prove useful for decision makers in the implementation of the agreement.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement through the years

As a result of pollution events during the 1960s and the public outcry on environmental disasters such as the fires on the Cuyahoga River and the hypoxic condition of Lake Erie that led to the signing of the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972 (Botts and Muldoon, 2005). This first agreement focused on the reduction of phosphorous to address massive algal blooms that depleted oxygen and let to dying offish and disruption of food webs. Successful implementation actions included the upgrading of sewage treatment plants, elimination of phosphorous in household detergents and the control of point source industrial pollutants (Botts and Muldoon, 2005). The agreement called for review every six years, a time frame that was not always adhered to (Figure 1). The first review led to the 1978 agreement. While the 1972 agreement was "determined to restore and enhance water quality in the Great Lakes System", the 1978 agreement introduced the ecosystem approach through the explicit purpose "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.

This agreement was credited with the introduction of the ecosystem approach on the global scale and was used by the US Commission for Ocean Policy in their recommendations for Oceans and Coasts in 2004 (US Commission for Ocean Policy, 2004). This ecosystem approach was based on the premise that all components of the environment were interconnected and that human health and environmental quality issues should be treated in an integrated manner (IJC, 2013). The 1978 Agreement also addressed the challenge of persistent toxic substances and listed priority toxic chemicals that needed urgent action. It called for virtual elimination through 'zero discharge' of inputs. This agreement was further amended in 1983 to include a Phosphorous load reduction supplement to Annex 3 which outlined basin wide phosphorous reduction plans.

The next amendment by protocol in 1987 further elucidated the concept of ecosystem management through the incorporation of Lakewide ecosystem objectives and Remedial Action Plans (RAPS). This version included new annexes for non-point source pollution, contaminated groundwater, air quality and coordinated research and development. …

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