The EPA recently released its third National Coastal Condition Report, including a section on the Great Lakes. The report assesses nationwide coastal conditions using five indicators: water quality, sediment quality, benthic community condition (health of bottom-dwelling invertebrate species), coastal habitat loss as indicated by changes in wetland area, and fish tissue contaminants. According to the EPA, the overall condition of our nation’s coasts is rated as “fair.” “Fair” is ok for the day’s weather, but I want (and the law requires) better than that for the health of our nation’s water. While the report shows some general and regional improvements since the 1990s, the improvements are modest and minimal compared to the threats and problems we continue to face.
Most disappointing is that the Great Lakes coastal areas are in worse condition that the national average. The EPA report rates the overall condition of the Great Lakes coastal areas as “fair to poor.” The water quality and fish tissue contaminants indices for the Great Lakes are rated fair, the sediment quality index is rated poor, and the coastal habitat and benthic indices are rated fair to poor. This is simply unacceptable.
The report, which was done in collaboration with numerous other federal and state agencies, is based on data collected primarily in 2001 and 2002. The next National Coastal Condition Report is expected to be released in 2011 and will provide an assessment of the status of U.S. coastal waters from 2003 to 2006, along with trends in condition since the 1990s. Citizens should demand better results by the next report, with a clear record of progress for the Great Lakes. To achieve this, new policies and laws are needed to address non-point runoff pollution, toxic deposition in waterways, and declining wetland and water quality enforcement.