Climate Change and the Great Lakes

Climate change puts wildlife, drinking water, and the regional economy at risk.

Even though the Great Lakes region has plenty of fresh water and a temperate climate, the lakes still face serious climate risks.  

In the last decade, the Great Lakes have experienced some of the warmest water temperatures on record, multiple years of record rainfall from extreme storms, rapid fluctuations in high and low water levels, and increased runoff pollution and flooding.  

Climate change also harms wildlife, threatens our drinking water, and puts the region’s economy at risk. And climate change makes existing water inequities even worse, as low-income communities and communities of color often bear the burden of the problem. 

Great Lakes water levels are the most visible climate change impact for many around the region. Fluctuation in lake levels is natural and vital for the health of the lakes. But they are expected to become more extreme, with higher highs and lower lows, and to happen more quickly because of climate change.  

Many changes aren’t easily seen by the human eye. Warming temperatures will worsen harmful algal blooms, and heavier rains will increase the runoff from farms and cities that feed those blooms. Severe storm events will cause more combined sewer overflows, basement sewage backups, and neighborhood flooding. And warmer temperatures may make the lakes more hospitable for invasive species and put native species at risk. 

The Great Lakes region must act now to prepare for climate change. Climate change can feel overwhelming. But we see hope for the future. The changes we make today can make the Great Lakes a healthy place for people who live here now and for future generations.