The Great Lakes basin contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. It is home to 10 percent of the U.S. population who depend of the lakes and the rivers that feed into them for clean drinking water, agricultural production, manufacturing, industry, transportation and shipping.

Some of this region’s rivers tumble from northwoods wilds and into the vastness of Lake Superior, others over waterfalls accenting the expanse of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

This great mixing ground of flora and fauna was once so robust that LaSalle and his fellow explorers thought their boats had hit sunken logs when in fact they had bumped into giant native catfish. Rich beyond compare, commercial fisheries on rivers have been harmed by pollution and the channelization of waterways into ditches and reservoirs.

But the countermovement to save America’s best free-flowing streams also had some of its earliest beginnings in this region. Michigan’s Au Sable is a beloved Wild and Scenic River. And today, citizens and agencies are working together for innovative clean water solutions and better care of the critical rivers and streams that make the Great Lakes what they are.

Key Issues

The rivers of the Great Lakes basin have been heavily impacted by its industrial past, invasive species and a changing climate. Antiquated sewer systems are unable to withstand more frequent and intense storms causing combined sewer overflows. Asian carp and other invasive species pose significant threat to native fish. Polluted runoff from both rural and urban lands increases erosion and puts public health at risk by contaminating drinking water supplies.

To confront these challenges and ensure a future of clean water for the region, American Rivers has made the Rivers of the Great Lakes a priority focus area. We have a long track record of working successfully with partners across the region. Our effort to reform the operations of hydropower dams has resulted in hundreds of miles of restored rivers such as Michigan’s Muskegon and Manistee. Our report Catching the Rain identified and promoted best practices for protecting clean water.  We have leveraged our research into community based demonstration projects in Toledo, Grand Rapids and Milwaukee. With climate change bringing more frequent and intense floods and adding new challenges for clean water, our work to protect the region’s rivers is more important than ever.