Great Lakes

Containing nearly 20% of the earth’s fresh water, the Great Lakes represent the largest freshwater system in the world.

Several habitat types can be found in the Great Lakes 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.


The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth



Illinois's water resources face many infrastructure challenges

Nutrient Loss

nutrient pollution

Nitrogen & phosphorus pollution degrade our water

Drinking Water

drinking water

Lead in drinking water threatens many IL communities

Threats To the Great Lakes

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 of human activity, 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 Great Lakes Laws

Existing clean water laws should be fully implemented, enforced and adequate public access to decision making processes should be provided.

Several changes to Illinois laws, policy and regulations regarding water resources are required to increase the ability of affected citizens to enforce the law, to ensure that regulatory agencies have robust and aggressive inspection and enforcement programs and policies with meaningful consequences for illegal polluters, and to increase public access and availability of pollution and permitting data.
While there is still much work to be done, there have been several legislative successes in protecting Illinois water so far.

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. Under the CWA, states have the “primary responsibilities and rights” to achieve the Act’s objectives.

With regards to point sources of water pollution discharges, the EPA determines discharge levels, issues and enforces permits, oversees a state’s program administration, and will take over if it determines that the state is underperforming.

The EPA establishes criteria for water quality, which is presumptively binding on states, each of which may establish designated water uses as long as the use doesn’t interfere with the attainment of downstream water quality.

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.

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.

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.

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.