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GLIN==> Lake Superior Binational Program: Celebrating 15 Years of Lake Protection and Restoration

Submitted by Lissa Radke <lradke@northland.edu>

Lake Superior Binational Program
Celebrating 15 Years of Lake Protection and Restoration

Ashland, Wis.---At the headwaters of the Great Lakes sprawls mighty Lake Superior, the cleanest and healthiest of the five lakes that make up 20 percent of the world's freshwater. Since 1991, citizens and organizations from around the lake's basin have collaborated through the Lake Superior Binational Program to make sure Lake Superior stays that way.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2006, the Program was established through an agreement among federal, state, provincial, and tribal governments that share access to Lake Superior. The program works to unify conservation efforts, keep the public informed on important issues, and advise lawmakers on how best to protect the lake.

Recognizing that "Water is life and the quality of water determines the quality of life," as stated in its 1992 Vision Statement, the Program's designers decided to focus their work on two shared strategies to improve Lake Superior's water quality: eliminating chemical contaminants in the lake through the Zero Discharge Demonstration Program and protecting the health of the broader ecosystem.

The Zero Discharge Demonstration Program set a rigorous reduction schedule that aims to eliminate point source discharges of nine toxic chemicals by 2020. This program, which seeks to be a model for other lakes, has reduced the introduction of some of these persistent chemicals by hundreds of thousands of pounds.

According to John Marsden, Lake Superior coordinator of restoration programs at Environment Canada, "Communities, industries and government partners on both sides of the border continue to achieve cooperative success to reduce critical pollutants. This is being accomplished through hazardous waste collections, the phase-out of equipment containing critical pollutants, and outreach to individuals, communities and industry to reduce the nine toxic chemicals targeted in the Lake Superior Zero Discharge Demonstration Program."

The Broader Program to Protect and Restore Lake Superior addresses issues that benefit both humans and the lake, such as habitat quality, land use change, terrestrial wildlife, invasive species, economic development, and sustainable development.

The Binational Program is managed by four cooperative groups made up of organizations and groups with a wide range of interests. The Lake Superior Task Force serves to steer the Program and make management decisions. It's made up of senior representatives from binational governmental agencies.

The Superior Work Group, including specialists from state, tribal, and provincial governmental agencies, is responsible for scientific research and development and implementation of protection and restoration actions. The Lake Superior Binational Forum consists of volunteers from the United States and Canada who represent different community sectors. The Forum links the Program to the general public by offering public input to the governments and educating the public about lake issues.

Finally, average citizens, businesses, industry, and groups located in the Lake Superior basin also have a place in the Binational Program. They often keep closer watch on their own communities than governmental agencies can, and their daily efforts to improve water quality through conservation and sound environmental practices are vital to the lake's continued good health.

The guiding strategy for all action taken by the Program is the Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP), completed in 2000. It outlines a series of goals and timelines for chemical reduction. It also contains ecosystem restoration, protection, and habitat improvement goals and timelines along with priority actions to achieve these. A progress report is published every two years, which describes accomplishments and challenges in meeting goals. The 2006 report was completed for Earth Day, April 22, and will be available soon.

So far, Lake Superior water quality has been enhanced by the work of the Binational Program. Mercury emissions into the lake have been reduced by over 60 percent. The release of chemicals, such as banned pesticides, has also been widely prevented through safe collection programs called Cleansweeps. Lake trout populations are almost restored to historic levels. Land has been protected along river ways. Recycling options have improved, and more people are learning about their lake and how to keep it clean. The Forum established an Environmental Stewardship Award in 2004 to recognize the outstanding contributions of individuals and businesses, and citizens around the lake celebrate Lake Superior Day every year on the third Sunday of July.

The next challenges facing the Binational Program include reducing and managing invasive species and continuing to reduce chemical discharges. One of the toxic chemicals targeted in the Zero Discharge Demonstration Program is dioxin, a carcinogen released when plastics burn at relatively low temperatures, as in backyard burn barrels. Open-air garbage burning pollutes the air with dioxin and other chemicals, which mix with rain and snow that ends up in Lake Superior. An important next step in cleaning the lake is educating people about safe ways to get rid of their garbage.

According to the Forum's U.S. Co-Chair Bruce Lindgren, the cooperation between governmental agencies, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and private citizens is what has made the Lake Superior Binational Program so strong for 15 years. "Lake Superior is a defining element of all of our lives in this region," he said. "Everyone, working together, will be needed to reduce a big lake's big problems."

US Environmental Protection Agency Lake Superior Manager Elizabeth LaPlante says the program has accomplished many of its goals, which has led to an overall improvement in the lake's condition.

"However, we have much more to do. We will continue to address reducing sources of mercury, PCBs, and dioxins to the lake. But we also need to address how to handle emerging contaminants such as flame retardants and personal care products, and how we can help implement the highest priorities of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration strategy," LaPlante said.

With continued care and attention, the natural environment of the Lake Superior basin should endure as part of a healthy, sustainable life for generations to come.

# # #

Contact for more information in the United States: Lissa Radke, US Coordinator, Lake Superior Binational Forum; (715) 68201489; lradke@northland.edu

Contact for more information in Canada: Barb Nicol, Canadian Coordinator, Lake Superior Binational Forum; (888) 301-LAKE; bnicol@lakeheadu.ca

Lissa Radke
US Coordinator
Lake Superior Binational Forum
Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College
Ashland WI 54806
FAX 715-682-1218
"Water is life, and the quality of water determines the quality of life."
--Lake Superior Binational Forum vision statement

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