Public Advisory Councils’ role in the Great Lakes

Public Advisory Councils are organized in each Area of Concern (AOC) in the Great Lakes to help identify problems and implement strategies for improvement.

Under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972, the United States and Canada began a partnership to clean up impairments throughout the Great Lakes. To undertake this monumental task, they developed areas of concern (AOCs). Simply put, these are areas in the Great Lakes system that are experiencing significant environmental degradation caused by such things as excess nutrients, bacterial or chemical contamination or loss of fish or wildlife habitat. This agreement has been updated twice since then - in 1987 and 2012.

AOCs must develop a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) that identifies the beneficial use impairments and actions to improve the impairment and delist the problem and eventually the AOC. These Remedial Action Plans need to be developed by local stakeholders with input from state and federal agencies.

Each AOC organizes a Public Advisory Council (PAC). This is a voluntary group of individuals, agencies and local units of government that come together to participate in the process to identify remedies for the impairments of the area and make recommendations on how best to restore the beneficial uses of the area. They can identify and implement actions to address the plan’s recommendations.

While the AOCs are under federal authority, most of the local responsibilities of the AOC and PACs are overseen by the states. In Michigan’s case, the Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) works closely with each PAC.

The PAC is a stakeholder group for the AOC. It has no legal existence and is not incorporated. It may develop guidelines under which the members of the PAC operate – but they are voluntary, mutually agreed upon procedures for PAC members to conduct business.

The PAC’s role in the beneficial use impairment (BUI) removal process is to develop a plan for removal, oversee the implementation of the plan and then recommend that the BUI be removed. The PACs recommendation then goes to the MDEQ for their consideration. If the MDEQ agrees with the PAC recommendation, it then goes on to the US EPA for final approval.

While they have no legal authority, the PACs play an important role in the improvement of water quality in the Great Lakes system. They are the eyes and ears in the AOC. They know what the issues and potential solutions are and have a vested interest in ensuring that use impairments are worked on and removed for everyone’s benefit. The PAC writes the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the AOC and submits it for approval. PACs also have the ability to submit grant proposals to assist with cleanup efforts. PACs have the ability to accomplish a great deal with a small grant by leveraging these funds with local resources, both financial and in-kind.

For more information on Areas of Concern and Remedial Action Plans, visit the Michigan State University Extension article:

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