A More Comprehensive Approach Is Needed To Clean Up the Great Lakes

CED-82-63: Published: May 21, 1982. Publicly Released: May 21, 1982.

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GAO made a review to determine whether the United States is meeting the objectives of the U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

GAO found that, although the Great Lakes are cleaner, the United States is finding it difficult to meet the objectives of the Agreement. U.S. efforts have been hampered by a lack of effective strategies for dealing with Great Lakes water quality problems, a lack of knowledge about the extent of pollution problems and the impact of control programs, and a need for improved management of the Great Lakes pollution cleanup activities. There have been unrealistic timetables for constructing facilities, problems in obtaining and using federal grant funds, a lack of local support for construction activities, and budget reductions. Information is lacking about the nature, extent, and source of toxic pollution. State and areawide plans to address pollution from agricultural, forestry, and urban runoff have not been comprehensive and may not be completed as federal funding has been cut off. Current water quality monitoring is not providing the data needed to address the pollution problems due to a lack of funds. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the principal U.S. agency for carrying out water quality activities and implementing the Agreement, has broad and complex responsibilities requiring cooperation with a variety of federal, state, and local agencies as well as with the International Joint Commission and Canadian environmental agencies. EPA has had difficulty obtaining this cooperation which is needed to ensure that the Great Lakes water quality program can compete with other national issues.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should pass legislation currently pending which would amend the National Ocean Pollution Research and Development and Monitoring Planning Act of 1978 to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish a Great Lakes research office.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Administrator of EPA, should determine: (1) whether the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement objectives and commitments are overly ambitious; and (2) whether sufficient funding to meet Agreement objectives and commitments can be provided given current economic and budgetary conditions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should raise GLNPO to a high level in the organization and give it the authority and resources necessary to: (1) develop and implement specific action plans to carry out U.S. responsibilities under the Agreement; (2) coordinate internal EPA actions aimed at improving Great Lakes water quality; (3) coordinate with other federal agencies and the states to ensure their input in developing water quality strategies and their support in achieving Agreement objectives; and (4) serve as the liaison with and provide input to the International Joint Commission and EPA counterparts in Canada.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct GLNPO to develop a surveillance and monitoring plan for the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes. Such a plan should: (1) delineate the agencies involved in Great Lakes surveillance and monitoring activities; (2) include methods and procedures to ensure that monitoring activities are carried out promptly and that the data gathered are complete and consistent in order to provide meaningful evaluations and comparative analyses; and (3) include procedures to ensure that U.S. and Canadian monitoring efforts are consistent.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) to develop a comprehensive plan and strategy to address phosphorus, nonpoint, and toxic pollution problems in the Great Lakes Basin. The Administrator should direct GLNPO to: (1) revise its interagency agreement to include other federal agencies with responsibilities for nonpoint programs affecting the Great Lakes; (2) serve as the coordinating mechanism for Great Lakes Basin water quality plans being developed by areawide agencies and the states and consolidate the individual state and areawide plans into an overall basin plan; and (3) enter into an interagency agreement with NOAA to define the responsibilities of NOAA and EPA concerning Great Lakes research activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct GLNPO and the various EPA organizational elements involved in Great Lakes activities to enter into agreements specifically delineating: (1) the Great Lakes duties and responsibilities of each entity; (2) timeframes for carrying out assigned duties and responsibilities; and (3) the resources to be committed to these duties and responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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