Senior Great Lakes region officials recently announced a new plan to clean up and restore the world’s largest freshwater system, setting specific goals and calling for all levels of government to work more closely together.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the Great Lakes Strategy 2002 addresses the most serious problems facing the five lakes, including sediment contamination, the proliferation of nonnative species, loss of habitat and the production of fish unsafe for eating.

It includes monitoring contaminants in fish, requiring factories that discharge into the lakes to limit contaminants, enlisting cooperation from corporations and tracking cleanup efforts implemented by state and local agencies.

"Everyone who enjoys the Great Lakes can appreciate the goals the partnership has set to ensure that the Great Lakes basin is a healthy, natural environment for wildlife and people,” Whitman said April 2 in announcing the strategy. The plan was developed by the U.S. Policy Committee, a forum of senior-level representatives from the federal, state and tribal agencies responsible for the environmental and natural resources of the Great Lakes region.

No additional government funding has been set aside for the plan, said Steve Brandt, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Lansing. The plan warned that more money could be needed to meet some of its objectives, but it did not give specifics.

The strategy sets forth four key visions:

  • The Great Lakes Basin is a healthy natural environment for wildlife and people;
  • All Great Lakes beaches are open for swimming;
  • All Great Lakes fish are safe to eat; and
  • The Great Lakes are protected as a safe source of drinking water.

To accomplish the vision, the strategy sets forth a number of specific goals. Among them:

  • Reduce the concentration of PCBs in lake trout and walleye by 25 percent by 2007;
  • Restore or enhance 100,000 acres of wetlands by 2010;
  • Substantially reduce by 2010 the further introduction of nonnative species;
  • Establish 300,000 acres of buffer strips in agricultural lands by 2007;
  • Have 90 percent of beaches open for 95 percent of the season by 2010;
  • Clean up and delist 3 contaminated “areas of concern” by 2005, and a total of 10 by 2010;
  • Speed up sediment cleanup, finishing all contaminated sites by 2025.

“I’m certainly optimistic because at last this magnificent resource has caught the attention of the U.S. EPA administrator,” said Dave Dempsey of the Michigan Environmental Council in Lansing.

Many efforts in the plan are already under way.

“But what is new is that we have collaboration from many different state and federal agencies, and that’s important — that we all agree on the goals,” said Phillippa Cannon, an EPA spokeswoman in Chicago.

She also said the plan sets a lot of deadlines for goals that previously were vague or did not exist.

The EPA says more than 30 million people receive their drinking water from the Great Lakes. The lakes have more than 600 beaches on U.S. shores.