This week, the U.S. and Canada signed a historic update to the agreement to protect the water quality of the Great Lakes.

The lakes could use some help. The five Great Lakes have a history of being used as a dumping ground for pollution. The 30 million people who live in surrounding states are relying on them for drinking water. And in recent years, drilling firms are eyeing water from the region for "fracking" natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale.

Since this is an election year, the eight bordering states and the Canadian province of Ontario invited both presidential candidates to this year's iteration of the annual Great Lakes summit, held this week in Cleveland, Ohio. The Obama campaign sent Carol Browner, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Policy. She reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to environmental protection and clean water and emphasized his record of investment in the region.

The Romney campaign sent no one, perhaps because the adjacent states are not electorally important, or perhaps because water is not a priority. In 14 answers to science topics provided by both campaigns to Scientific American, Romney mentioned only the need to "modernize" fresh water regulation.

The updated Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement signed this year is a bid to update a commitment last revisited in 1987. New provisions in the agreement address everything from invasive species like zebra mussels or the Asian carp to the impacts of climate change on the lakes' water levels. And the EPA unveiled investments in permeable concrete (to prevent runoff) and better stormwater management to help improve water quality in the Cleveland region specifically. After all, Lake Erie has come a long way since the days when its tributary, the Cuyahoga River, literally burned.

Image: Courtesy of NASA