Great Lakes, Amazing Connections: The Power of Cooperation in Policymaking

Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River. (Photo by Datch78 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Great Lakes connect more than 40 million people who live in the region through shared coastlines and drinking water, a trillion-dollar economy, and governmental partnerships. Collaboration on policy, whether across borders, waters or party lines, is just one way the lakes unite people throughout the basin. Stay tuned for future posts in our series, "Great Lakes, Amazing Connections," to learn more about the ways the Great Lakes bring us together.

Governors and premiers from across the Great Lakes basin recently gathered for a leadership summit in Quebec City, located on the banks of the beautiful St. Lawrence River, to partner in safeguarding the health of the Great Lakes.

Just as the St. Lawrence River, comme diraient nos amis du Québec, le fleuve Saint-Laurent, is a vital part of the Great Lakes basin, connecting the lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, the interests of eight states and two provinces from two different countries represented at this meeting are yoked together, in part, by their shared 10,890 miles of Great Lakes coast.

Each year, these heads of states and provinces meet to discuss the policies that impact one of the world's greatest natural treasures. The theme of this year's summit, "Connecting Across Borders," was especially fitting as the Council of Great Lakes Governors committed themselves to actions benefiting the health of the waters that connect the 42 million people who call the basin home.

Shedd Aquarium was honored to be invited to attend the summit, which allowed us to join other Great Lakes leaders in sharing our unique perspectives that help inform policy makers and heads of state on issues surrounding the lifeblood of both our aquarium and the Great Lakes region: water.

Water was a key focus this year as summit participants celebrated the tenth anniversary of the completion of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, better known as the Great Lakes Compact.

Many people from across the basin put a great deal of work into crafting this historic agreement between two nations and many other stakeholders that outlines how eight US States and two Canadian provinces work together to protect the waters of the lakes and prevent 20 percent of the world's freshwater from leaving the basin.

The Great Lakes Compact can serve as a model for countries friendly along their borders or facing challenges. For instance, mayors from Israel, Palestine and Jordan recently joined together to sign an agreement with leaders of Great Lakes cities at the University of Illinois Chicago's Water After Borders conference. This "sister waters" partnership will help facilitate the revitalization and protection of the Lower Jordan River Basin and create global relationships focused on cross-boundary water sources.

And though the Governors' and Premiers' summit in Quebec City had an air of celebration, the participants acknowledged that we cannot rest on our laurels. In a forward-looking spirit, representatives of the heads of Michigan, Ohio and Ontario committed to actions protecting Lake Erie from harmful algal blooms and aquatic invasive species.

Politicians are often accused of being reactionary, but this was a very proactive agreement. Governors Rick Snyder of Michigan and John Kasich of Ohio and Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario stepped up to take action before another toxic bloom like the one that shut off water to Toledo for more than two days last summer could debilitate an entire region. Shedd applauds this kind of bipartisan and binational collaboration that's necessary to protect the Great Lakes we cherish.

What Great Lakes issues are important to you? Ten years in, how has the Great Lakes Compact impacted your life and community? We'd love to know! Leave a comment or tweet @Shedd_GL.