About Our Lakes: Great Lakes Basin Facts

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Images of Great Lake shorelines.

Water Volume: 5,500 cubic miles (22,809 cubic km), 90% of U.S. supply, 18% of world supply

Water Surface Area: 95,000 square miles (245,759 square km). Largest surface area of freshwater in the world.

Shoreline Length: 10,210 miles (17,017 km).

Shoreline Use:

    • Residential - U.S. 26.5%, Canada 18.6%;
    • Commercial / Industrial - U.S. 6.7%, Canada 2.6%;
    • Agricultural - U.S. 1.5%, Canada 8.2%;
    • Other - U.S. 65.3%, Canada 70.6% (Canada includes transportation/communications, recreation, extraction, water, wetlands, forestry, grassland, barren; U.S. includes public, beaches, forests, barren lands)

Population: 35 million.

Outlets: St. Lawrence River and Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal

Retention Times (amount of time it takes for lakes to get rid of pollutants):

    • Lake Superior: 191 years
    • Lake Michigan: 62 years*
    • Lake Huron: 22 years
    • Lake Ontario: 6 years
    • Lake Erie: 2.6 years

$4 billion sports fishery industry.

250 species of fish.

Provides drinking water for 40 million people. Provides 56 billion gallons of water per day for municipal, agricultural, and industrial use.

Commercial shipping of 200 million tons over 1,270 mile route.

Provides power generation and cooling water.

Produces 90% of iron ore. Also, 58% of automobiles in the U.S. and Canada are manufactured in the Great Lakes basin.

1,000 mile international border.

Stats Table

*Sources: The Great Lakes: An Environmental Atlas and Resource Book. Available online through the U.S. EPA web site.

Quinn, F.H., 1992. Hydraulic residence times for the Laurentian Great Lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 18(1), pp.22-28. (View PDF)

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