Jon W. Allan

Jon W. Allan is a Sr Advisor and Sr Academic and Research Program Office at the School for the Environment at the University of Michigan where he focuses effort on speeding up the transition to a sustainable and just society. He is also president and founder of the Jon W. Allan Group, a private consultancy specializing in strategic insight for freshwater and the Great Lakes, energy and environmental policy and natural resource governance where they focus on the intersection of ecological, economic, social and cultural value(s) of water and natural resources.

He retired in 2019 as the Director of the Office of the Great Lakes where he they worked to protect, restore, and sustain the Great Lakes watershed. Prior to that he served in a number of executive management positions at Consumers Energy in environmental and energy management, government and regulatory affairs, and strategy development. During this time he served nationally on the Gas Research Institute’s Environmental Committee and as chair of Edison Electric’s Global Climate Change Committee.

He is the US Co-chair of the International Joint Commission’s Water Quality Board, chairs MSU’s Institute for Water Research Advisory Board, and serves on the Board of Governors at Cranbrook Institute of Science and chairs its Freshwater Forum, and advises other projects and entities. Previously he has chaired the Great Lakes Commission and the Executive Committee of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers and served on the Great Lakes Executive Committee. He has advised during the Great Lakes Compact negotiations and co-chaired the State’s Water Use Advisory Council tasked with the state’s strategy and implementation of the Great Lakes Compact. He’s has served in a range of roles over the years with the State of Michigan, including with Michigan’s Groundwater Conservation Advisory Council, The Water Use Council, the Michigan Climate Action Council, The Midwest Governor’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, the Environmental Advisory Council for the Michigan DEQ and the Governor’s Blue-Ribbon Panel on Parks. He also served as a presidential appointee on the Governance Coordinating Committee for the National Ocean Council.

Jon has taught courses in marine zoology and island ecology in Maine, and biology, ecology and environmental impact assessment and has published in a number of related areas on stream systems, wetlands, water and governance. He holds an undergraduate degree in Fisheries and Wildlife, and a Masters in Zoology from MSU and completed considerable additional graduate work in Environmental Policy and Law.


Political leaders (such as Governors and Premiers) often ask, typically within the first months of their new administration, “who is in charge of the Great Lakes”.  Often this is preceded by some issue or looming crisis like water levels, pollution, nutrient runoff or the like that has just crossed their desk. The answer from their staff is usually something like “no one and everyone” or it depends on the issue”.  There is no one Great Lakes “Sovereign” in charge of one of, if not the, preeminent freshwater system in the world. For many, this is a staggering realization. For it is indeed a vast – shared – freshwater system and one deeply predicated on complex systems of shared governance. With two federal governments, several hundred Tribal and First Nation sovereign governments, eight state and two provincial governments and hundreds and hundreds of local and regional governmental entities, the Great Lakes region holds complex and important examples of successful (and less successful) cross-border/cross boundary engagements. Many of the successes have been mediated through transboundary organizations like the Great Lakes Commission, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Governors and Premiers, the International Joint Commission and its advisory boards and other governmental, quasi-governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Some are decidedly more bureaucratic in their approach paying passing or formalistic attention to broad civic engagement while others are deeply rooted in complex forms of engagement and participation – many are somewhere in between.  Most if not all, to one degree of another rely on science to inform decision making and to sort out competing interests, risks, stresses, threats and uses. On one hand, the region has a surfeit of organizations at all levels (local to federal, small to large, formal to informal, etc.) to help mediate and organize such cross boundary engagements and governance yet, on the other hand, they all have their niches, peculiarities and specialities. Understanding the state and condition of the Great Lakes writ large and its current and future trajectory is as much about understanding the underlying science of fish and invertebrate, hydrology, biogeochemistry and the like as it is about understanding demographics, social influence, affinity, rootedness and restlessness, traditional ecological knowledge, shared experience and the participative decisional mechanisms that help assess and direct decision making of and this vast freshwater treasure and for its people. 

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