State Of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC)
What is SOLEC?
The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences (SOLEC) are hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada on behalf of the two countries. These conferences are held every two years in response to a reporting requirement of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). The goal of SOLEC is to achieve the overall purpose of the GLWQA “to restore and maintain the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin”. The conferences are intended to report on the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem and the major factors impacting it, and to provide a forum for exchange of this information amongst Great Lakes decision-makers. These conferences are not intended to discuss the status of programs needed for protection and restoration of the Great Lakes basin, but to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs through analysis of the state of the ecosystem. Another goal of the conference is to provide information to people in all levels of government, corporate, and not-for-profit sectors that make decisions that affect the Great Lakes.
These conferences are a culmination of information gathered from a wide variety of sources and engage a variety of organizations. In the year following each conference, the Governments prepare a report on the state of the Great Lakes based in large part upon the conference process.
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. This conference and SOLEC 1996 were based on a series of ad hoc indicators that were suggested by scientific experts. The 1996 conference focused on the nearshore lands and waters of the system where biological productivity is greatest and where humans have had maximum impact. Emphasis was placed on nearshore waters, coastal wetlands, land by the Lakes, impacts of changing land use, and information availability and management. Following SOLEC 96, those involved identified a need to develop a comprehensive, basin wide set of indicators that would allow the Parties to report on the progress under the Agreement in a consistent and standard format.
For SOLEC 98, the indicator development process became more regimented with the development of a comprehensive suite of easily understood indicators that objectively represented the condition of the Great Lakes ecosystem components (as called for in Annex 11 of the GLWQA). The goal is to use these indicators every two years to inform the public and report progress in achieving the purpose of the GLWQA, thus initiating a regular and comprehensive reporting system. This indicator suite would draw upon and compliment indicators used for more specific purposes such as Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) or Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) for Areas of Concern (AOCs). During SOLEC 98 and afterward, the suite was thoroughly reviewed and a general consensus was obtained that the suite of 80 indicators was necessary and sufficient.
Following the general acceptance of the Great Lakes suite of indicators, was the movement to begin implementing them. At SOLEC 2000, the challenge was to see how many of the 80 indicators could be reported on. In some cases this was a fairly “easy” task – data were already available for use in reporting on an indicator (by various agencies). In other cases, this task became more difficult as new data were required before they could be reported, or further research and development was required before implementing data collection efforts and then reporting on an indicator. Post SOLEC 2000 and through the winter of 2001, there was an opportunity for further review of the indicator list and for revisions to be made to the indicator suite. SOLEC 2000 was the first conference to begin the actual assessment of the state of the Great Lakes using these science-based indicators. SOLEC 2000 featured 33 indicator assessments.
The focus of SOLEC 2002 was to continue to update and assess the state of the Great Lakes using the current suite of indicators with an emphasis on biological integrity, the theme for SOLEC 2002. “Integrity” is not specifically defined in the GLWQA; therefore the following definition was used for SOLEC 2002 and any corresponding documents.
“Biological integrity is the capacity to support and maintain a balanced integrated and adaptive biological system, having the full range of elements (the form) and process (the function) expected in a regions natural habitat.” — James R. Karr (modified by Douglas P. Dodge)
SOLEC 2002, presented a candidate set of Biological Integrity indicators that would assist with reporting on Biological Integrity at SOLEC 2004. In addition, groundbreaking work had been completed on landbased indicators: forestry and agriculture. Also, a new suite of indicators was proposed for consideration to assess groundwater health. A new grouping of societal response indicators was also proposed to help in the assessment of community contribution to improving the health of the basin. SOLEC 2002 also provided revisions to current indicators in the Great Lakes suite and identified management challenges and actions. SOLEC 2002 featured 43 indicator assessments.
Since SOLEC 2002, organizers have held two reviews on the Great Lakes indicator processes and products. The first review included indicator experts from outside the Great Lakes basin. They were asked to evaluate the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the SOLEC process. In other words, how does the Great Lakes system of developing and reporting on indicators measure up with indicator systems in other parts of the world? A report by this group of reviewers concluded that, “SOLEC is not the world leader in indicator development, but it is a world leader. In particular it is a leader in the consultation process, which is one of SOLEC’s greatest strengths.”
The second review by stakeholders and indicator users evaluated the entire suite of current Great Lakes indicators with suggestions provided to add, remove or modify existing indicators in the suite to assist with the reporting on the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem and factors impacting it. Changes to the process for developing and reporting on Great Lakes indicators were made as a result of input from both reviews.
The modifications to existing indicators and new proposed indicators are documented in the report, Great Lakes Indicators Suite: Changes and Progress 2004 document.
The focus of SOLEC 2004 was to continue to update and assess the state of the Great Lakes using the current suite of indicators with an emphasis on physical integrity, the theme for SOLEC 2004. Although a physical integrity paper was not finalized in time for the conference, it will be completed during 2005 so that an assessment on the state of physical integrity in the Great Lakes basin can be reported at SOLEC 2006.
The State of the Great Lakes 2005: Draft for Discussion was the first attempt by SOLEC organizers to prepare a draft status report prior to the conference itself. In the past, this report was not completed until after the conference. SOLEC 2004 also marks the introduction of nine bundles of indicators which incorporate the 81 Great Lakes indicators in the suite. The bundles include: Contamination, Biotic Communities, Invasive Species, Coastal Zones, Aquatic Habitats, Human Health, Land Use – Land Cover, Resource Utilization and Climate Change. Some of these categories are under development and will require additional indicators and sub categories before being considered complete. Five of the nine indicator bundles were assessed for SOLEC 2004.
SOLEC 2006 was the 7th biennial conference in which the governments of Canada and the United States of America assess and report on the condition of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The conference was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from November 1-3, 2006. Participants focused on updating and assessing the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem components using indicators with an emphasis on chemical integrity. Invitations to participate in SOLEC 2006 were offered to Great Lakes stakeholders.