The Great Lakes Source Water Initiative is collaborating across borders to protect the waters that serve as the source of drinking water for 48 million people within the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin.

Our Goals

Working together, participants in Blue Accounting's Source Water Initiative identified five shared goals that can be applied to a community’s source water to assure a safe and sustainable supply of drinking water for its citizens. Scroll down to view the goals and how we plan to measure progress toward achieving them.

Sharing Solutions for a Shared Problem

Imagine a day without water. How would you go about your daily life? Care for your family? Run a business? Now imagine three days without water. The city of Toledo and nearby areas in Ohio and Michigan found themselves in this exact situation in the summer of 2014 during a harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie.

Before water flows from a tap and before it’s treated by a local water supplier, water is collected from a source. For many of us, that source is one of the Great Lakes. For others, it might be a major river, a groundwater aquifer beneath our feet, or the small stream flowing through a neighborhood. Many of these sources are shared across city, county, and even international borders.

As stewards of the largest freshwater system in the world, the residents of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin are rightfully proud of this shared natural resource, yet we struggle to find a consistent way to track progress toward our collective desire for a safe and sustainable supply of drinking water. The Great Lakes Source Water Initiative is using the principles of Blue Accounting to identify measurable goals and strategies for source water protection, track progress toward those goals and investments in those strategies, and share progress.

Our Goals and Why They Matter

Our Goals


Goal: Nutrient Impacts

Nutrients are critical to agricultural production, but too much of a good thing can cause problems for sources of drinking water. Nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen, can also enter waterways from community wastewater and storm water.Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock)


Goal: Management Strategies and Planning

To reach a goal, it helps to know where you're going and have the tools necessary to get there. Effective and up-to-date planning efforts allow communities to set a course for source water protection. (©Shutterstock)

OIl Spill

Goal: Spill Prevention and Response

Planning to protect source water also means preparing for the unexpected. Being ready to execute plans under emergency conditions, including spills of polluting material, is critical to protecting our sources of drinking water. (©Gabor Kenyeres/Shutterstock)


Goal: Contaminants of Emerging Concern

The pharmaceuticals pictured here are just one type of substance with potential impacts on source water. Thousands of other substances that are present in our everyday lives are also considered contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and may be present in sources of drinking water. Understanding the effects of CECs and their presence in source water is a difficult, yet valuable, goal. (©Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock)

Policy Consistency

Goal: Policy Consistency

The shared waters of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin cross many jurisdictional boundaries. This presents an opportunity to learn from one another and build consistency in protecting source water. (©FreshStock/Shutterstock)

Measuring Progress

In order to measure progress toward achieving the five shared goals, the Source Water Initiative has also identified metrics for each goal. Over time, these metrics will be used to paint a big picture view of the progress of strategies and investments toward the shared goals. The metrics may also be adapted as the work evolves in order to best tell the story of progress being made to protect source water in the Great Lakes.

Metrics by Goal

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  • Number of drinking water intakes in watersheds designated as ”impaired” in the U.S. 
  • Number/acres of relevant conservation practices installed on working agricultural lands, including the linear extent of protected riparian corridors (i.e. permanent buffers or riparian corridors under easement), that improve nutrient retention on the land
  • Number of wastewater treatment plants with phosphorus concentration limits above and below 1 mg/l
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  • Existence of plans designed to protect source water, as well as the population covered by these plans
  • Age of plan and applicable update cycles
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  • Participation in local spill preparedness activities (i.e. Area Contingency Planning)
  • Existence of early warning or detection systems for intakes
  • Number of reported spill incidents affecting source water, and number and duration of associated water use advisories or interruptions
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  • Monitoring data and trends for Contaminants of Emerging Concern through the U.S. EPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR)
  • Education and outreach programs/materials for CECs
  • Pharmaceutical takeback programs, including those administered by hospitals, pharmacies, and government entities
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  • Monitoring for the Chemicals of Mutual Concern (CMCs) as defined by Annex 3 of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
  • Dollars allocated to source water protection
  • Degree of consistency on source water protection policies

Who’s Involved

The Great Lakes Source Water Initiative is guided by a diverse, binational work group  of water professionals from across the Great Lakes region that reflects the breadth of interest and experience in source water protection. This group includes agency staff from the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. They are joined by colleagues from the provinces of Ontario and Québec. Municipal water suppliers are also represented, along with advocacy groups, business interests, and federal and academic research institutions. Work group members share a mutual understanding that through collaboration and collective action more can be done to secure a safe and sustainable supply of drinking water.

How We Work

With shared goals and associated metrics now in place, we are recruiting “Showcase Communities” to provide examples of local strategies and investments that support progress toward reaching our shared goals. We are also compiling other data and information to measure progress. While the Initiative’s goals and metrics do not have the weight of law or policy, they do harness the power of committed professionals working together for a common purpose: protecting our drinking water at its source.

Source Water Initiative Working Group


Where We Work

Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River basin


Great Lakes Basin Map

Our footprint is big—the entire Great Lakes basin and a portion of the St. Lawrence River basin. By starting big and thinking across political boundaries, Blue Accounting’s Source Water Initiative will weave together the patchwork of formerly disconnected efforts and show how source water is being protected by communities, states, and provinces across the region.