Great Lakes Strategy & Research

Ontario borders on 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, and is blessed with over 250,000 inland lakes that all need our care and attention. 

Get to know the individual Great Lakes, from a TVO.org series:

Lake Ontario    Lake Erie      Lake Huron      Lake Michigan     Lake Superior

FOCA monitors and engages in Great Lakes environmental developments and policy on behalf of our many members who have property on the Great Lakes, or are affected by developments across the Great Lakes Watershed.

February 2024 – “Plan 2014“, which is in place to regulate outflows from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River, went into effect in 2017. In response to public concerns about flooding since that time, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has launched a “Phase 2” review of the Plan, including a Public Advisory Group. The goal is to find ways to moderate extreme water impacts.

You can provide your own feedback on how water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence affected you in 2022 or 2023.  

Nov. 9, 2023 – The International Join Commission’s (IJC) 2023 Third Triennial Assessment of Progress (TAP) on Great Lakes Water Quality is a three-year review of federal government progress under the Canada-US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement toward healthier Great Lakes. Download the full 2023 IJC TAP report (PDF, 80 pages) or click the image at the side to enlarge a summary of the 3 main recommendations of the report.

September 27-29, 2022 – 2022 Great Lakes Public Forum – Niagara Falls & virtual. This forum provided an opportunity for members of the public, organizations, and agencies with an interest or involvement in the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes to learn, share, and participate in Great Lake discussions. The Governments of Canada and the United States discussed the state of the Great Lakes, restoration and protection opportunities and binational priorities for science and action, and invite the general public to participate and comment on these plans. Get information here: https://binational.net/2022/05/26/great-lakes-public-forum-2022/

The International Joint Commission will also discuss and receive public input on the Progress Report of the Parties at the Forum.  Read the notice from the IJC (PDF, 2 pages) that explains the various ways you can add your comments to the process.

March 2022 – “Plan 2014” is the plan for regulating Lake Ontario outflows that went into effect in 2017. However, record floods in 2 of the 3 following years led the International Joint Commission (IJC) to ask its Great-Lakes St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee to launch an expedited review of Plan 2014. 

Public comment on the report on Phase 1 of the review of Plan 2014 was invited until April 18, 2022. The feedback received in this public comment period will be considered by the IJC and will inform its own findings and recommendations that will be submitted to the governments of Canada and the United States. Read the report: https://glam-engage.ijc.org/

Sept. 2021 – More than 100 years after the original 1913 study monitoring untreated sewage pollution in the boundary waters of the Great Lakes, the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) Health Professionals Advisory Board concluded that an updated basinwide water quality survey – using cutting-edge DNA technology – is both feasible and necessary. The Board is now working to develop an implementation plan for the proposed study. Read more from IJC.

June 2021 – updated Canada-Ontario Great Lakes Agreement has been signed; the most current collaborative agreement to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

March 22, 2021 – ‘Winter is vanishing’ from the deep waters of Lake Michigan (CNN)

January 26, 2021 – Great Lakes ice cover shrinks, with big toll on leisure, erosion, ecosystems (London Free Press)

March 2021 – Status of the Food Webs of the Great Lakes (US EPA) – click to open the 2-page PDF containing excerpts, plus a link to the full report.

October 13, 2020 – A Stressful Interaction: Some Ecosystem Stressors Have Greater Influence When Combined (IJC)

September, 2020 – Assessing economic impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes: the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute has released new research which will help quantify the economic impacts and options in times of water disruptions. It is the first attempt to assess the role of water in the broader economy of the Great Lakes Basin and Ontario as a whole, and should be a great tool for federal and provincial authorities responsible for managing the economies and resources of the Great Lakes Basin. Read more from Water Canada on the research.

August 25, 2020 – Renewed Support for CELA’s Healthy Great Lakes Program.  FOCA is pleased to be on the Advisory Committee for this important work with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).

July 14, 2020 – Great Lakes water temperatures are blowing away records and could climb higher (Washington Post)

June 9, 2020 – the International Joint Commission (IJC) reports that an ongoing review of the regulation of Lake Ontario outflows will be informed by a diverse Public Advisory Group of Canadian and US citizens. Read more from the IJC, here.

Please note: the following is archival material, and some links to third-party resources may no longer be active.

In 2015, FOCA appeared before the Ontario Legislative Committee to provide recommendations and to speak in support of Bill 66, the new Great Lakes Protection Act. Read FOCA’s submission to the Committee, together with our environmental partners. (PDF, 7 pages)

The Act was passed on October 7, 2015; Click here for the news release and quotes from FOCA and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. The Act intends to:

  • Help fight climate change, reduce harmful algal blooms, and protect wetlands and other coastal areas
  • Monitor and report on the health of the lakes
  • Bring people together to take action on priority issues
  • Build on Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy  and Ontario’s partnerships with the governments of Canada, Quebec, U.S.A., and the Great Lakes states.

Partner Feature:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL) conducts research on the environments and ecosystems of the Great Lakes, to provide information for resource use and management decisions that lead to safe and sustainable ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human communities. One area of focus is on Harmful Algal Blooms (or “HABs”). For more on this topic, visit FOCA’s Algal Blooms webpage.

The GLERL “Lake Erie HABs Tracker” is a tool that combines remote sensing, monitoring, and modeling to produce daily 5-day forecasts of bloom transport and concentration. This is based on daily satellite imagery, and real-time monitoring which is used to estimate the current expanse and intensity of blooms,  and modeling to predict where the bloom will travel and what concentrations are likely to be seen. These predictions can provide water managers with timely information for public health decision-making.

GLERL researchers are working to identify factors that influence harmful algal blooms (HABs) and to develop methods to forecast toxic cyanobacteria blooms. Research is focused on improving our ability to predict when algal blooms will occur, whether or not they are toxic, and their impact on human health.

The Lake Erie Experimental HAB Bulletin was developed to provide a weekly forecast for Microcystis blooms in western Lake Erie. When a harmful bloom is detected by the experimental system, scientists will issue a bulletin. The bulletin depicts the HABs’ current location and future movement, as well as categorizes its intensity on a weekly basis.

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Lake Erie Oxygen Depletion

The Lake Erie ecosystem faces wide and varied threats to its health and integrity, including recurring low oxygen episodes (‘dead zones’) in the central basin. A prominent feature of Lake Erie’s central basin is the lake bottom area of severe hypoxia (< 2-3 ppm dissolved oxygen concentration) that recurs annually during late summer. Although the size of the dead zone declined with reduced phosphorus inputs during the mid-1980s, current levels of oxygen depletion are on par with those observed during the preceding period of severe cultural eutrophication, which is of concern to both Lake Erie resource management agencies and user groups.

The Hypoxia Warning System is intended to provide Lake Erie central basin drinking water managers information about the transport of hypoxic water into municipal water intakes. The objectives of the project are to understand the chemistry and biology surrounding the microbial-driven formation of hypoxia and subsequently provide warnings of water chemistry changes, upwelling events and internal waves impacting drinking water quality at Cleveland, OH.

Please note: the following is archival material, and some links to third-party resources may no longer be active.

March 9, 2021 – The Great Lakes Region Needs a Coordinated, Consistent Approach to Climate Change (IJC)

October 13, 2020 – Building Resilience along Lake Michigan and Huron Shorelines (IJC)

September 2020 – Great Lakes Organizations Urge U.S. Congress to Include Great Lakes Priorities in WRDA Reauthorization Organizations representing Great Lakes states, tribes, state legislators, municipalities, conservation organizations, labor, business, and ports have urged members of Congress to include key priorities for the Great Lakes in the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act. (Healing our Waters Great Lakes Coalition)

April 17, 2020 – COVID-19 disrupts Great Lakes research, outreach (Great Lakes Echo)

March 26, 2020 – EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus. This announcement raises grave concerns about the extent to which this could impact the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Boundary Waters Treaty, and new NAFTA’s environmental provisions. More about the possible implications for Canada, from CELA: US Relaxation of Environmental Rules in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic – The Implications for Canada and Mexico (March 29, 2020)

September 2018 – Great Lakes Survey results: The International Joint Commission (IJC)’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board has released new survey results that 88% of 4,250 Canadian and US respondents believe protecting the Great Lakes is important. Top on respondents’ list of potential negative impacts? Invasive species, followed by algae blooms. Read highlights from the IJC, by clicking here.

April 11, 2018 – Key resources for Great Lakes stories (Society of Environmental Journalists)

Feb. 13, 2018 – the International Joint Commission released a report of their analysis that commercial fertilizer and manure applications are the largest sources of excess phosphorus into the western basin of Lake Erie. The study was conducted to better understand the influence of phosphorus and its potential to cause eutrophic conditions and algal blooms. Climate change is further expected to influence the rate of phosphorus entering Lake Erie. Read the report here.

December 3, 2017 – Dan Egan on the Great Lakes “One of the easiest, most powerful things you can do is to raise a kid who loves the lakes.” (CBC)

December 1, 2017 – Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announces that the Government of Canada will invest $45 million for the Great Lakes Protection Initiative, part of the $70.5 million of new funding allocated for freshwater protection in Budget 2017. The Government of  is working with the Government of Ontario and partners to protect the Great Lakes. New programming will focus on reducing toxic and nuisance algae and strengthening the resilience of Great Lakes coastal wetlands (newswire.ca)

November 30, 2017 – International Joint Commission says U.S., Canada fall short on protecting Great Lakes  (CBC). See IJC’s 2017 Triennial Assessment of Progress report under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA)

March 7, 2017 – Could Trump’s proposed EPA cuts leave Ontario to clean up the Great Lakes? (TVO)

March 3, 2017 – Trump may cut Great Lakes protection budget by 97 per cent (CTV)

Statement from Alliance for the Great Lakes on Reports of Massive U.S. EPA & Great Lakes Program Budget Cuts  (Alliance for the Great Lakes)

December 14, 2016 – Great Lakes Invasive Species Documentary (Great Lakes Echo)

November 30, 2016 – Underwater Glider Helps Monitor Great Lakes Water Quality  (US EPA blog)

November 21, 2016 – Weather the Storm: Improving Great Lakes Modeling (Michigan Technological University)

October 14, 2016 – Using Airplanes for Algal Bloom Prediction in Lake Erie (NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab)

October 3, 2016 – Lake Huron whitefish feeling effects of invasive mussels (greatlakesecho.org)

September 27, 2016 – The Great Lakes are an ecosystem in trouble. Every three years the Canadian and American governments and interested parties come together for the Great Lakes Public Forum. This year they’ll gather in Toronto Oct. 4-6 to discuss the increasing pressures on the Great Lakes and give the public a chance to weigh in with their concerns. Join TVO throughout the week for a special series about the Great Lakes on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.   (TVO.org)

September 19, 2016 – Great Lakes holding their heat this September (The Buffalo News)

September 9th, 2016 – Tracking the Toxicity of Lake Erie Algal Blooms (Video) For more info about NOAA – Great Lakes Environmental Research see here.

March 22, 2016 – Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy Progress Report (2016) was released. This is the first progress report,  outlining the accomplishments and new scientific findings during the first three years of Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy.

Also on March 22, 2016, was the inaugural Great Lakes Guardians Council (GLGC) meeting. The GLGC was established under the Great Lakes Protection Act, 2015 as a forum for Great Lakes ministers and representatives of diverse interests to exchange information and consult on actions that achieve the purposes of the Act. The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has provided a new draft GLGC Statement of Intent.

Also in March 2016, FOCA joined more than 100 environmental, health and advocacy groups in signing a letter to urge the Canadian and U.S. federal governments to designate radionuclides as Chemicals of Mutual Concern under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

In February 2016 the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition commissioned a poll which surveyed people living in the eight U.S. Great Lakes states: Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York , and Pennsylvania. The poll shows that large majorities (86 percent) living in the Great Lakes strongly support the U.S. federal government’s annual investment of $300 million in Great Lakes restoration. Additionally, people polled feel that there are threats that remain in the lakes, and that these should be addressed by federal government investments. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 115 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. See more in this Press Release (March 2016)


January 2016: In a recent report, the International Joint Commission (IJC) described the progress being made on protecting the Great Lakes from potentially harmful consumptive uses and diversions. The report generally found that federal, state and provincial governments in the Great Lakes Basin are making progress towards protecting the Great Lakes from water diversions and managing consumptive uses, and that policy gaps identified by in 2000 have been largely filled.

The IJC observes that there continue to be large voids between our knowledge regarding levels and flows, and the impact they have on the ecosystem of the basin. Due to prevailing uncertainties such as those posed by climate change and the sheer threat of the unexpected, the precautionary principle needs to be continually applied by basin jurisdictions to ensure, to the extent possible, adequate supplies for all socio-economic and ecosystem uses for the long term.

U.S. Commissioner Dereth Glance commented, “There is no surplus Great Lakes water, as only one percent of the Great Lakes water supply is renewed each year by rainfall and snowmelt.”


November 23, 2015 – Lake Erie 2015 algae bloom was larger than Toronto (London Free Press) See more at NOAA.

Update August 26, 2015: FOCA is part of bi-national network of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) who have provided insights into, and support for, work underway within the US Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, related to commitments to set phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie. FOCA, along with our ENGO partners, are strongly supportive of setting phosphorus targets for Lake Erie by the February 2016 deadline,  and to the development and implementation of  Domestic Action Plans  – as soon as possible. Read the latest “nutrients” submission by the ENGO network.

July 23, 2015 – Harmful Algae on Lake Erie – Despite spring projections of a better than average algae situation for Lake Erie in 2015, recent reports are less optimistic. Late and persistent spring rains and recent hot weather have meant increased nutrients loads, and ideal conditions for the formation of blue-green algae blooms. You can learn more about the algae and other Great Lakes monitoring programs here.

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As part of the obligations under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Environment Canada has posted Recommended Binational Phosphorus Targets to Combat Lake Erie Algal Blooms for comments until August 31, 2015.

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May 2015: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL) conducts research on the environments and ecosystems of the Great Lakes, to provide information for resource use and management decisions that lead to safe and sustainable ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human communities.

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One area of focus is on Harmful Algal Blooms (or HABs):

The GLERL “Lake Erie HABs Tracker” is a tool that combines remote sensing, monitoring, and modeling to produce daily 5-day forecasts of bloom transport and concentration. This is based on daily satellite imagery, and real-time monitoring which is used to estimate the current expanse and intensity of blooms,  and modeling to predict where the bloom will travel and what concentrations are likely to be seen. These predictions can provide water managers with timely information for public health decision-making.

IMG_0089GLERL researchers are working to identify factors that influence harmful algal blooms (HABs) and to develop methods to forecast toxic cyanobacteria blooms. Research is focused on improving our ability to predict when algal blooms will occur, whether or not they are toxic, and their impact on human health.

The Lake Erie Experimental HAB Bulletin was developed to provide a weekly forecast for Microcystis blooms in western Lake Erie. When a harmful bloom is detected by the experimental system, scientists will issue a bulletin. The bulletin depicts the HABs’ current location and future movement, as well as categorizes its intensity on a weekly basis.

BUTTON asterixOn May 26, 2015, the HAB Bulletin featured an Early Season Prediction: that 2015 would not likely see a repeat of the severe blooms experienced in 2011, and 2013.  While things can change, and there is much uncertainty in such predictions, this seems to be a positive sign for Lake Erie – for now.

February 3, 2015 – Great Lakes Water Level updates:  The International Lake Superior Board of Control says Lake Superior had the highest January level since 1997 — about 22 cm or 9 inches higher than the long-term average for the month.  According to the board’s Canadian secretary, higher levels were expected heading into the winter because the 11 months before January were wetter than usual. The monthly mean water level of Lake Michigan-Huron in January was 22 cm (9 in) above the long-term (1918-2013) January average, the highest January level since 1998.   For more information see the news report including the recent press release from the IJC (CBC News).

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January 13, 2015 – The Lake Superior Biodiversity Conservation Strategy has been released for review. Along with input from the public, the Lake Superior Binational Program and the Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan partners developed the draft Strategy in 2014, and are currently developing 20 corresponding regional plans. Together, these documents will provide a common framework for implementing actions all around Lake Superior that will meet goals of protecting and restoring Lake Superior’s habitat and species. Review the full draft – Lake Superior Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.

December 2014 – The governments of Canada and Ontario renewed their commitment to jointly restore, protect and conserve the Great Lakes, by signing the Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, 2014. The agreement is online here. FOCA joined over 20 signatories from Canada and the USA to provide comments on the proposed COA to the governments of Ontario (PDF, 8 pages), and Canada (PDF, 7 pages).

December 11, 2014 – Rising Great Lakes water levels end 15-year low period (CBC)

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August 4, 2014 – Toledo’s Contaminated Water: Here’s What Went Wrong  (Time Magazine)

Related information:

Lake Erie Oxygen Depletion:

The Lake Erie ecosystem faces wide and varied threats to its health and integrity, including recurring low oxygen episodes (‘dead zones’) in the central basin. A prominent feature of Lake Erie’s central basin is the lake bottom area of severe hypoxia (< 2-3 ppm dissolved oxygen concentration) that recurs annually during late summer. Although the size of the dead zone declined with reduced phosphorus inputs during the mid-1980s, current levels of oxygen depletion are on par with those observed during the preceding period of severe cultural eutrophication, which is of concern to both Lake Erie resource management agencies and user groups.

The Hypoxia Warning System is intended to provide Lake Erie central basin drinking water managers information about the transport of hypoxic water into municipal water intakes. The objectives of the project are to understand the chemistry and biology surrounding the microbial-driven formation of hypoxia and subsequently provide warnings of water chemistry changes, upwelling events and internal waves impacting drinking water quality at Cleveland, OH.

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June 2014 – Low Water Blues: An Economic Impact Assessment of Future Low Water Levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River (Council of the Great Lakes Region; PDF, 120 pages)

April 24, 2014 – Ontario posts draft regulations re: the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. The regulatory amendments (pdf; 11 pages) would bring the Agreement (signed in 2005!) into full force. Comments were welcome on this proposal until  until June 9, 2014. The Agreement commits the provinces and states that share the Great Lakes to better protect, conserve and restore the waters of the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin.

May 2013 – Chi-Cheemaun ferry sailing season between Tobermory and South Baymouth delayed due to low water (Owen Sound Sun Times)

April 26 – IJC News Release: the Commission now recommends structural options to restore water levels in Lake Huron by up to 25cm, over time, in response to public calls for action.

April 29, 2013 -CBC News story reports scientist expect toxic algae on Lake Erie this year

March 20, 2013 – “Counting the Costs of low water” – Read this article from Cottage Country Now about dropping Georgian Bay water levels

March 15, 2013 – the IJC’s International Adaptive Management Task Team released its proposed plan, “Building Across the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River System: An Adaptive Management Plan for Addressing Extreme Water Levels.” (pdf; 72 pages) The plan proposes collaborative efforts aimed at providing a more efficient and cost effective way to support decision-making aimed at reducing the impacts associated with future extreme water levels. Public input was available until April 15, 2013.

December 2012 – Minister of Environment announces final Great Lakes Strategy (pdf; 1 page)

June 2012 – FOCA attended the announcement of the proposed Great Lakes Protection Act by the Ontario Minister of the Environment in Toronto.