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State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC)

SOLEC Reports

SOLEC conferences and State of the Great Lakes reports are produced jointly by EPA and Environment Canada on behalf of the United States and Canada.

They provide independent, science-based reporting on the health of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.

SOLEC process objectives:

  1. Assess the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem based on accepted indicators
  2. Strengthen decision-making and environmental management concerning the Great Lakes
  3. Inform local decision makers of Great Lakes environmental issues
  4. Provide a forum for communication and networking among Great Lakes stakeholders

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State of the Great Lakes Reports




Conference Proceedings


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The SOLEC conferences are hosted by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada on behalf of the two Countries every two years in response to the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The conferences are intended to provide a forum for exchange of information on the ecological condition of the Great Lakes and surrounding lands. A major purpose of this is to reach a large audience of people in the government (at all levels), corporate and not-for-profit sectors who make decisions that affect the lakes. Other conferences and fora are expected to meet the need for exchange of research results and for large gatherings of the general public.

Held in even numbered years, the conferences are the focal point of a process of gathering information from a wide variety of sources and engaging a variety of organizations in bringing it together. In the year following each conference the Governments have prepared a report on the state of the Lakes based in large part upon the conference process.

The SOLEC process views the ecosystem in terms of the state or "health" of the living system and its underlying physical, chemical and biological components. Human health is considered to be part of the living system. SOLEC conferences are intended to focus on the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem and the major factors impacting it rather than the status of programs needed for its protection and restoration. Evaluation and redirection of programs are addressed through other means.

The first conference, held in 1994, addressed the entire system with particular emphasis on aquatic community health, human health, aquatic habitat, toxic contaminants and nutrients in the water, and the changing Great Lakes economy. The 1996 conference focused on the near shore lands and waters of the system where biological productivity is greatest and humans have had maximum impact. Emphasis was placed on near shore waters, coastal wetlands, land by the Lakes, the impact of changing land use, and information availability and management. For each conference an integration paper was prepared for participants, bringing all the topics together. Also for both conferences indicators were chosen and, based on expert opinions, subjective assessments were provided as to conditions in terms of good, fair, poor, etc.

In planning for SOLEC '98 the organizers want to support further development of easily understood indicators which objectively represent the condition of ecosystem components. These would be used every two years to inform the public and report progress in achieving the purpose of the Agreement: to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

In addition to reporting on the health of the living system, the conferences report on the underlying conditions. This reflects the increased recognition that the condition of the ecosystem is being determined by three major factors: habitat loss, pollution, and exotic species; all of which are being driven by human activities.

The SOLEC indicators are intended to provide an umbrella or overarching set which provide a general system wide overview. They will draw upon and complement indicators used for more specific purposes such as Lake wide Management Plans or Remedial Acton Plans for geographic Areas of Concern.

In addition to reporting the state of the system, the 1996 conference began reporting on ecological areas that hold unusual concentrations of biodiversity identified as "investment areas". Contained in the paper on the land by the lakes, the concept will be expanded to coastal wetlands and aquatic areas in 1998.

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