Climate Change and the Great Lakes Water Resources

Noah D. Hall and Bret B. Stuntz
Posted on: 11/29/2007 - Updated on: 11/06/2018

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The science is compelling. Now the question for citizens and policymakers is whether existing laws and policies are adequate to protect the Great Lakes from the new pressures of climate change. Unfortunately, the answer is, “No.” However, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (“Great Lakes compact”),1 if enacted, would be an important step in improving Great Lakes water resource policy to meet the challenge of climate change.

Part I of this report focuses on how climate change will impact water resources. It begins with a brief summary of climate change science. It then explores what a changing climate will mean for the GreatLakes, including possible lowering of lake levels, impacts on fisheries and wildlife, changes in Great Lakes shorelines, and reduction of groundwater supplies. Climate change will also reduce water supplies in other parts of the country, creating increased pressure to divert Great Lakes water to other regions. As the Great Lakes and other regions struggle with loss of water supplies, demand for water is expected to increase unless water conservation laws and policies are adopted.Part II of this report focuses on policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts on water resources. It begins with a brief summary of recommendations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases which cause climate change. It then evaluates the adequacy of existing Great Lakes water resource policies for responding to the pressures of climate change. Unfortunately, current laws and policies intended to protect Great Lakes water resources from diversions (transfers of Great Lakes water outside of the basin) and overuse within the basin are not up to the new challenges posed by climate change. The region can better protect and manage Great Lakes water resources in a future of climate change by adopting new water resource policies.

The report concludes by examining how the Great Lakes compact gives the region an opportunity to make these improvements in water resource policy and better protect the Great Lakes from the pressures of climate change.


Hall, N. D. & Stuntz, B. B. (2007). Climate change and the Great Lakes water resources. National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved from CAKE: