Great Lakes Water Resources Compact

 Lake Michigan

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is an historic agreement among the eight Great Lakes states to protect Great Lakes water.

The Compact, which came into force on December 8, 2008, protects wildlife and habitat from water diversions from the Great Lakes basin and promotes sound water management within the basin. 

The Compact offers extensive protections to Great Lakes water because it treats groundwater, surface water and Great Lakes tributaries as a single ecosystem. 

An agreement among the Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec (the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement-PDF) helps the U.S. and Canada work together on protecting the Great Lakes.

The National Wildlife Federation led efforts to negotiate and pass the Great Lakes Compact.

Water Withdrawals Threaten the Great Lakes

Removing water from the Great Lakes basin can put fish and wildlife at risk by damaging habitat and degrading water quality.  Predicted lower Great Lakes water levels due to climate change and increased water use are looming threats to the Great Lakes. While the Great Lakes are large, they are very fragile. Less than 1% of Great Lakes water is renewed annually through rainfall and snowmelt. 

Three years after the Great Lakes Compact became effective, progress on implementation continues to move slowly. All of the Great Lakes states have created water withdrawal permitting programs, and some are notable successes, while others need improvement. See how states across the Basin are managing water under the Great Lakes Compact (pdf).

The Compact Protects the Great Lakes from Diversions

The Compact requires anyone outside the basin who wants to use Great Lakes water to meet strict criteria. The Compact specifies that the states and the Compact Council must review any new diversions of Great Lakes water. Misuse of water within the Great Lakes basin poses a threat to fish and wildlife habitat just as diversions of water outside of the basin do. The Compact requires states to implement water conservation and management plans to protect Great Lakes water.  

Putting the Great Lakes Compact to Use

The Compact is a powerful tool to protect the Great Lakes. Each state must meet the requirements of the Compact, however much work remains to ensure that the states fulfill their responsibilities. The National Wildlife Federation leads an ongoing campaign to see that the Compact is strictly enforced. As a  key leader of the Compact Agreement Coalition of environmental and conservation groups across the Great Lakes basin, NWF:

  • works with states to comply with the requirements of the Compact;
  • monitors the actions of the Regional Body and Compact Council;
  • provides expert advice and solutions to water management problems.

The first major test of the Great Lakes Compact

A request to divert water outside of the Great Lakes basin by the City of Waukesha, WI, is currently under review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The outcome of this application will set a precedent for future diversion requests. NWF is working with its partners to ensure that this application and all other requests for Great Lakes water meet the strict criteria set out by the Compact.

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