The 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement states that “the Waters of the Great Lakes should allow for swimming and other recreational use, unrestricted by environmental quality concerns.”

Status: Good
Trend: Unchanging to Improving

Assessment highlights

The overall status of Beaches is Good and the trend is Unchanging to Improving. The Beaches indicator shows that many monitored beaches in the Great Lakes are safe for swimming and recreational use throughout most of the swimming season.

The U.S. and Canada use different E. coli criteria to determine when a beach is unsafe for swimming. Each year, over 700 beaches along the Great Lakes shoreline are monitored for E. coli as a measure of risk from fecal material contamination and these data are used in this assessment. Sources of E. coli can include overflow from wastewater treatment plants, runoff from the land, improperly working septic systems and even large flocks of waterbirds.

From 2018 to 2019, the percentage of days that monitored Canadian Great Lakes beaches met Ontario E. coli standards for swimming averaged 90% over this period. The U.S. Great Lakes beaches monitored from 2018 to 2019 were open and safe for swimming 94% of the time over this period. The status of monitored beaches was Good in all of the lakes other than Lake Erie. Lake Erie beaches in Canada and the U.S. were open and safe for swimming approximately 80% and 84% of the swimming season, respectively, resulting in a Fair assessment. The 10-year trend for Great Lakes U.S. beaches is Unchanging while the Canadian Great Lakes beaches are showing an Improving trend leading to an overall trend of Unchanging to Improving.

Bar chart of the percentage of days that monitored U.S. Lake Ontario beaches were open and safe to swim during the swimming season from 2010 to 2019. Over this 10-year period, there has been an increase in percentage of days that monitored beaches are open and safe to swim.


Monitored U.S. Lake Ontario beaches show improving 10-year trend

Sub-indicator supporting the Beaches assessment


Lake Superior

Lake Michigan

Lake Huron

Lake Erie

Lake Ontario

Good and Unchanging

Good and Unchanging

Good and Unchanging to Improving

Fair and Unchanging

Good and Improving


Green indicator (good status). Most or all ecosystem components are in acceptable condition.
Yellow indicator (fair status). Some ecosystem components are in acceptable condition.
Red indicator (poor status). Very few or no ecosystem components are in acceptable condition.
Grey indicator (status indeterminate). Data are not available or are insufficient to assess condition of the ecosystem components.