The U.S. and Canadian governments have released a 2017 State of the Great Lakes report.  The news is overall not good.  It’s important to understand why.

One way of summarizing things is the lake by lake snapshot on page 19.  There, the governments report, four of the five Lakes are in fair or poor condition.  None of the Lakes is improving, and Lake Erie is deteriorating.

Another way is to look at the individual indicators.  Of the 9, six are fair, one mixed, one good and one poor.  That’s the equivalent of a solid C.

A final way is to examine the rhetoric.  The governments say:  “While progress to restore and protect the Great Lakes has been made, including the reduction of toxic chemicals, we are still facing challenges with issues such as invasive species and nutrients. In addition, the ecosystem is large and complex and it can take years to respond to restoration activities and policy changes.”

But the reduction of toxic chemicals discussed here is due to measures taken approximately 40 to 45 years ago, particularly the banning of PCBs and DDT  Meanwhile, hundreds of problem chemicals are out there, and the governments have yet to propose strategies to deal with the handful of chemicals in the Great Lakes that they’ve formally declared of mutual concern.

The real story behind the report card is that to governments, mediocrity has become acceptable. You wonder whether governments would even act against PCBs and DDT if they emerged as problems today.

The public clamors for clean Great Lakes, and many devoted science and regulatory professionals in government are doing their best.  But at the highest levels there is no appetite for taking on the burden of battling the biggest threats to the Lakes.  Expect more C grades, at best, in years to come.