University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

School of Freshwater Sciences

Climate change in the Great Lakes – New report issues policy recommendations

The Center for Water Policy at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences today released a new report on the impact of climate change on the Great Lakes, with policy recommendations to protect water resources.

On the heels of the release of the White House’s National Climate Assessment, the report lays out the first comprehensive strategy to account for climate change in Great Lakes policy.  The report was developed at a three-day summit of Great Lakes leaders held at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in mid-April.

Dr. Jenny Kehl, Center for Water Policy Director

The UWM-led effort leverages its research capacity and unparalleled expertise on Great Lakes issues, with the nation’s first graduate school dedicated solely to freshwater issues, to advise the Great Lakes region on problems, solutions, and policy recommendations critical to the long-term success of Great Lakes restoration projects.

“Climate change jeopardizes the political and economic stability of the Great Lakes. Our current production-consumption structure is no longer compatible with our long-term environmental and economic sustainability,” says Jenny Kehl, director of the Center for Water Policy. “This report represents a proactive policy conversation to address a complex challenge. Climate change impacts everything from the tap water we drink to the price we pay for electricity, to what kind of Great Lakes our future generations will inherit.”

In six policy briefs, the leaders convened by the Center for Water Policy outlined the myriad threats and opportunities climate change poses for the Great Lakes region. 
  • wild variation in precipitation and lake levels
  • more intense storms, and more extreme floods and droughts
  •  expanded ranges for invasive species
  • accelerated transport of toxic contaminants in the lake
  • increased energy consumption with water-reliant coal-generated power
  • increased agricultural demand for water
To address the multi-billion dollar challenges, the Center group logged strategies in each stressor category. Collectively these strategies amount to a resource handbook for Great Lakes managers and policy makers. Some of the many recommendations include:
  • expanding the region’s renewable energy portfolio
  • involving farmers in nutrient and land-use policy formation
  • galvanizing diverse constituencies of the Great Lakes environment 
  • adopting a watershed-based approach to pollution control
  • calculating the “virtual water” used to produce food and goods
  • aligning Farm Bill incentives with local stewardship priorities
  • accounting for the true cost of water

The report and policy briefs are available for download.