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Great Lakes: An Overall Strategy and Indicators for Measuring Progress Are Needed to Better Achieve Restoration Goals.

GAO-03-515 April 30, 2003

The five Great Lakes, which comprise the largest system of freshwater in the world, are threatened on many environmental fronts. To address the extent of progress made in restoring the Great Lakes Basin, which includes the lakes and surrounding area, GAO (1) identified the federal and state environmental programs operating in the basin and funding devoted to them, (2) evaluated the restoration strategies used and how they are coordinated, and (3) assessed overall environmental progress made in the basin restoration effort.

There are 148 federal and 51 state programs funding environmental restoration activities in the Great Lakes Basin. Most of these programs involve the localized application of national or state environmental initiatives and do not specifically focus on unique basin concerns. However, several programs specifically address environmental conditions in the Great Lakes. GAO identified 33 federal Great Lakes specific programs, and states funded 17 additional unique Great Lakes specific programs. Other governmental, bi-national, and nongovernmental organizations also fund restoration activities within the basin. GAO identified several Great Lakes environmental strategies being used at the bi-national, federal, and state levels. These strategies are not coordinated or unified in a fashion comparable to other large restoration projects such as the South Florida Ecosystem. In an effort to improve coordination, federal and state officials recently published Great Lakes Strategy 2002, but this document is largely a description of existing and planned program activities rather than an overarching plan. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office has coordination authority over many activities but has not fully exercised it to this point. With available information, it is not possible to comprehensively assess restoration progress in the Great Lakes. Current indicators rely on limited quantitative data and subjective judgments to determine whether conditions are improving, such as whether fish are safe to eat. The ultimate success of an ongoing bi-national effort to develop a set of overall indicators for the Great Lakes is uncertain because it relies on the resources voluntarily provided by several organizations. Further, no date for completing a final list of indicators has been established.
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Publication:General Accounting Office Reports & Testimony
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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