Future of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in doubt; state legislators urge continuation of federal funding

Only a few months after celebrating key congressional victories at the end of 2016, Great Lakes advocates are now fighting to prevent a complete elimination of funding for a federal program that has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into projects that protect habitat, stop the spread of invasive species and clean up “Areas of Concern.”
President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for an end to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It says “specific regional efforts,” such as those related to the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, should instead be the responsibility of state and local entities.

Seventy-seven members of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus signed on to a letter in Aprilurging continued support of the initiative, which currently is being funded at $300 million a year.
“Eliminating the GLRI throws the continued economic and environmental viability of the Great Lakes into grave jeopardy,” according to the letter, which was signed by legislators in each of the basin’s eight states.
The caucus letter also notes the importance of federal involvement in protecting a resource that touches 10 different jurisdictions (eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces) and provides 84 percent of North America’s fresh surface water. The United States and Canada also have made mutual commitments to protect the waters of the Great Lakes, via a binational agreement that dates back to 1972.
“[State and local] programs benefit greatly from the strategic planning and resources provided by the GLRI” and “may cease to function” without this strong federal involvement, the letter notes.
In March, 63 U.S. House members (all representing Great Lakes states) sent a letter to congressional budget leaders urging them to fund the GLRI at $300 million in fiscal year 2018.
The initiative has enjoyed bipartisan support since being established in 2010, as evidenced by the decision last year not only to fund the GLRI at $300 million, but to formally authorize it as well. (Formal authorization is considered an important step to securing yearly funding for a federal program.)
In a 2016 report to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified some of the major gains made under the initiative:
  • Three “Areas of Concern” (environmentally degraded locations in the basin) have been delisted since the GLRI began. These include Deer Lake and White Lake in Michigan. The initiative also has accelerated cleanup efforts in Waukegan Harbor (Illinois) and in contaminated parts of the St. Clair River (Michigan), the Sheboygan River (Wisconsin) and the St. Louis River (Minnesota and Wisconsin). 
  • Advances in eDNA technology in fiscal year 2015 will simplify and accelerate the process for detecting one of the most destructive invasive species, Asian carp. 
  • Between 2010 and 2015, more than 875 projects have been launched (many completed) to preserve habitat and protect native species. In 2015, more than 3,800 miles of Great Lakes tributaries were reopened to help native fish, and 36,000 acres of habitat (including 7,000 acres of coastal wetlands) were protected.
Stateline Midwest: April 20171.75 MB