The Alliance is the protector of this amazing source of life

Lake Michigan and Chicago Skyline_Community benefits Chicago_Yosef Meystel

Image courtesy of Tom Ipri at

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a series of interconnected freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, with sea-like characteristics such as rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths, and distant horizons. They hold a fifth of the world’s surface freshwater and supply over 40 million people with drinking water, but are threatened by invasive species and pollution from oil refineries, sewage overflow, and fertilizer runoff.

Alliance for the Great Lakes

The Alliance is the oldest Great Lakes organization devoted to the lakes. Their professional staff works with scientists, policy makers, businesses, community groups and everyday citizens to protect and restore the world’s largest surface freshwater resource. It is a 45 years old powerful force helping to protect the Great Lakes through advocacy, education, and restoration. From forging forward-looking Great Lakes policies to promoting Great Lakes education to on-the ground efforts to improve thousands of miles of Great Lakes shoreline. For example, it helped push for the groundbreaking commitment to reduce pollution flowing into Lake Erie by 40 percent. And thanks in part to the organization’s work, last year Illinois became the first state to pass a law phasing out the manufacture and sale of products, such as body scrubs containing microbeads, which cause pollution in the water supply and can be mistaken for food by marine organisms. The group’s annual fall Adopt-a-Beach cleanup brings together nearly 15,000 volunteers to pick debris from beaches and shorelines. Each year, the Alliance also teaches lots of schoolchildren about the ecology of the lakes. Recent Alliance victories include a push for new sanitary sewer discharge rules in Wisconsin to protect Lake Michigan.

History and Achievements

The Alliance was founded in 1970 as the Lake Michigan Federation, with the purpose of creating a system for citizens to monitor compliance of hundreds of pollution discharge permits around Lake Michigan. After a year, the Alliance joined with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley to successfully campaign for Chicago to be the first city to ban phosphates in detergents, and pushed for adoption of the new federal Clean Water Act and other national policy reforms, and later supported passage of Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which today remains one of the strongest local Great Lakes coastal protection laws. In 1973, its work stopped the construction of more than 20 nuclear power plants contemplated to be built on Lake Michigan.

In 1999, the Alliance won a commitment from Chicago to reduce South Lake Shore Drive runoff into Lake Michigan by up to 98 percent. Shortly after that, it created an education department to train teachers and teach students of all ages about the importance of the Great Lakes. The organization launched Adopt-a-Beach as the most extensive volunteer program ever to collect data on Great Lakes beach litter, monitor water quality and improve beach health. In 2005 it adopted a new name, Alliance for the Great Lakes, helping Michigan to become the first Great Lakes state to write and pass legal standards for the discharge of polluted ballast water from oceangoing ships.

After receiving the American Bar Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Environmental Law and Policy, the first not-for-profit citizen’s group to win the award, it celebrated congressional approval of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a $475 million down payment on a multi-billion-dollar plan to improve Great Lakes’ health.

Lake Michigan View_Chicago_Yosef Meystel_Community benefits Chicago

Image courtesy of Sean Davis at

Goals for the Future

Conserving Water by developing strategies for protection of the fresh water supply and elimination of wasteful water use. The studies reveal that invasive species foul beaches, destroy fisheries, clog water plants, and permanently disrupt the Great Lakes food web. Stopping invasive species before they enter will save the region billions in damages and control costs, and is the only way to secure the future for a restored Great Lakes. The Great Lakes’ coasts support the most valuable diversity of fish, wildlife and plant life in the region. The organization help states, cities and private landowners plan, fund and execute strategies to protect and restore these priceless freshwater shorelines while stopping destruction of existing habitats.

In addition, the Alliance is committed to foster an ethic of learning, appreciation and care for the Great Lakes. Adopt-a-Beach is the Alliance’s premier volunteer program, with about 10,000 participants, between individuals and families, schools and businesses, which monitor pollution sources and clean Great Lakes coastlines every year.

People have been asking Yosef Meystel: “How can I make a difference?” With the Great Lakes Action Center, you will find direct contact with the decision makers that can make or break the future of the lakes. There, you could learn about the issues that need your help, and enlist your public officials to help protect the Great Lakes.


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