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Sustaining Progress toward Great Lakes Restoration

Spring 2011 Issue

To know the Great Lakes is to love them. The same is true for the magnificent St. Lawrence River.

While we are well past the days when chemical laden rivers literally burned and Lake Erie was pronounced "dead," there is still much to do to bring these waters back. Doing right by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Region protects the public health, preserves a complex and unique ecosystem, drives a $17 billion annual recreational boating and fishing economy, and serves to revitalize the urban rivers and waterfronts that are fundamental to our Great Lakes cities.

To broad acclaim, President Barack Obama announced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) - a five-year $2.2 billion program to prevent new introductions of invasive species, clean-up toxic river sediments, control polluted runoff, make more beaches swimmable, restore degraded wetlands, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. This program is now underway.

The foundation for the GLRI was developed through a large-scale planning effort known as the "Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy". Importantly, the "strategy" called for significant federal investment in clean water infrastructure, particularly the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). In fact, more than 65 percent of all funding needs identified in the strategy is for water infrastructure.

Then there are all those invasive species, some 180 and counting, in the Great Lakes. Extra federal funding has recently been targeted toward the "Asian Carp Framework" to prevent the introduction of a voracious species that many consider an existential threat to the Great Lakes as we know them.

I just returned from Great Lakes Day events in Washington, D.C. where we spoke with elected officials concerning the need for federal funding of the GLRI, the CWSRF and the Asian Carp Framework. We discussed how even in very difficult budgetary times these investments in our communities, our environment and our economy make good sense.

These are bipartisan priorities. The Great Lakes Strategy was developed under the George W. Bush administration and funded by the Obama administration's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. All eight Great Lakes states have expressed support for full funding of the GLRI, the CWSRF and the Asian Carp Framework through unanimous resolutions adopted by the Great Lakes Commission. Also supporting these priorities is the Great Lakes Chambers of Commerce, the Council of Great Lakes Industries, the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, and the Great Lakes Cities Initiative.

There is quite a consensus in support of positive federal investments in the clean water future of our Great Lakes. Let's hope federal funding continues.


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