The Great Lakes Basin, containing 21% of the world’s surface freshwater sources, provides 30 million people with water for drinking, agriculture, fishing, and recreation. The Great Lakes are especially susceptible to water quality issues as only 1% of the water flows out of the lakes every year, concentrating pollution.

The Great Lakes’ fresh water is especially vital to the basin’s agricultural industry, which pumps over 620 million gallons of water every day and generates $14.5 billion in annual agricultural sales. The region produces 7% of total U.S. food production and is a key provider of soybeans, hay, corn, and dairy. Agricultural practices and climate change are degrading the quality and altering the reliability of the lakes’ freshwater resources. In July 2019, the heavy rainfall in the spring exacerbated nutrient runoff and generated a toxic algal bloom covering 300 square miles of Lake Erie. In addition, pollution has also historically compromised the lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry, as pollutants such as mercury, PCBs, and oil have accumulated in ecosystems and found their way into the market, threatening public health.

Past legislation, such as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) and the Great Lakes Legacy Act, has begun evaluating and restoring the water quality in the Great Lakes after years of degradation; however, variable climate conditions, disrupted hydrological cycles, and continued human use are further threatening the Great Lakes’ water resources. 

Companies and investors have a unique opportunity to respond to water risks in their operations and supply chains near the Great Lakes, advocate for resilient water policies, and ensure sustainable management to reduce pollution of this important water supply.

Great Lakes


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[3] “Facts and Figures about the Great Lakes.” EPA, 4 Apr. 2019,

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[5] Proffitt, James. “Animal Culprit: Study Points to Animal Farms as Growing Contributors to Lake Erie Algae.” Great Lakes Now, 22 May 2019,

[6] Gronewold, Drew and Richard Rood. “Climate Change Sends Great Lakes Water Levels Seesawing.” Scientific American, 8 June 2019,

[7] Samuel, Sigal. “Lake Erie Now Has Legal Rights, Just like You.” Vox, 26 Feb. 2019,

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[12] “Milwaukee Brewery Is the First in the World to Achieve AWS Standard.” MillerCoors, 25 June 2018,

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