Our Impact & History
Protecting the Great Lakes for more than 50 years
The Alliance for the Great Lakes has been working to protect the lakes and our communities since 1970. Recent successes include:
Advocacy & Leadership
- Informing the federal agenda: Our policy team is a leading voice for Great Lakes protection in Washington, D.C. Each year, we release our federal legislative priorities, covering issues from infrastructure funding to Great Lakes protection programs, and advocate for them throughout the year.
- Preventing water diversions: We advocated for the historic Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and won significant protections for the lakes in the Compact’s first test, a diversion application by Waukesha, Wisc.
- Restoring the Great Lakes: We worked with organizations across the region to secure funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which funds cleanup of some of the most toxic hotspots across the region and restores the lakes.
- Combatting harmful algal blooms: We won a historic cleanup goal for Lake Erie, which is plagued each year by toxic algal blooms, when the governors of Ohio and Michigan joined the premier of Ontario to commit to a 40% reduction in nutrients into the lake by 2025.
- Fighting for Environmental Justice: We released policy recommendations, along with partners, to overhaul zoning rules for Chicago’s Calumet River and Lake Michigan industrial corridor, which faces unjust siting of polluting industries. We partnered with environmentalists of color in Ohio to develop a first-of-its-kind statewide environmental justice policy platform, coalescing recommendations covering water, land, air, and energy into a roadmap to address Ohio’s environmental justice issues.
- Reducing plastic pollution: We championed the federal ban on microbeads in personal care products like face wash and toothpaste, preventing billions of tiny plastic particles from entering the Great Lakes.
Education & Action
- Adopt-a-Beach: Each year more than 15,000 volunteers clean up beaches on all five Great Lakes. Our volunteers are on the front lines of keeping litter, most of it plastic, out of our lakes. And they collect valuable data on what they find for researchers to use worldwide.
- Actionable Toolkits: We provide nonpartisan, nonpolitical education to voters and candidates for office. We create toolkits designed to give people the information and tools they need to be part of the Great Lakes conversation. Recent toolkits include the nonpartisan Cleveland Environmental Resident Engagement Toolkit and the Plastic-Free Great Lakes Toolkit.
- Alliance Ambassadors: From talks at local civic clubs to setting up a booth at a volunteer fair, nearly 200 trained Ambassadors help us spread the word about Great Lakes issues and how to get involved.
- Great Lakes in My World: Our K-12 educational curriculum has connected nearly 60,000 students to hands-on Great Lakes learning and is available for free on our website. And our H.O.M.E.School lessons provide Great Lakes activities for kids who are learning at home.
Research & Analysis
- Assessing water affordability: Costs for sewer and drinking water services are rising in communities around the region. We partnered with Ohio Environmental Council to commission a study assessing the affordability of basic water services for low-income households in the state of Ohio. In short, it’s a challenge for many Ohioans in urban and rural areas. Now, we’re working to develop policy solutions that protect our water and improve our infrastructure, while not disproportionately impacting the most economically vulnerable.
- Stopping invasive carp: A regional policy leader on invasive species issues, we’ve led the campaign to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes for the past decade. We released a groundbreaking report calling for permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to prevent inter-basin transfer of invasive carp and other invasive species. Now we’re working to advance the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s proposed project at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam – the best solution currently available to prevent invasive carp from reaching the lakes.
- Convening peer exchanges for local officials: Climate change is already straining the Great Lakes, and communities facing drinking water and sewer infrastructure issues are being strained even further. We are partnering with cities around the lakes, bringing them together to share the creative ways they are addressing water issues, and working together to find solutions.
Led by Lee Botts, a tireless champion for Lake Michigan, a group of advocates formed the Lake Michigan Federation in 1970. The Federation was instrumental in many of the early Great Lakes protection campaigns.
But each Great Lake depends on the health of the others. And so, in the early 2000s, the organization’s staff and Board of Directors began contemplating how to expand its focus beyond just Lake Michigan.
The Lake Michigan Federation was renamed the Alliance for the Great Lakes in 2005.
The Alliance for the Great Lakes celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020.