Great Lakes Restoration Initiative


The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a federal program that supports efforts to restore the health of the Great Lakes by investing in projects to restore habitat and wetlands, clean up toxic pollution, combat invasive species like Asian carp, and prevent runoff from farms and cities.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was first funded by President Obama and the U.S. Congress in fiscal year 2010, but the need for restoration funding for the Great Lakes had been recognized long before that. Since the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada in 1972, work has been done to restore and protect the health of the Great Lakes. In 2004, President George W. Bush issued an executive order that called the Great Lakes a “national

Federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House.

Federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House.

treasure” and formed the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force—a group of eleven members that head federal agencies, tasked with coordinating the restoration of the Great Lakes. A year later, a group of industry leaders, non-governmental organizations, businesses, local government officials, tribes, and citizens all gathered together to craft a regional restoration plan—the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes. That plan and its shared set of restoration priorities—including preventing the introduction aquatic invasive species, stopping runoff, cleaning up toxic pollution, and restoring habitat loss—would serve as a roadmap for future federal restoration investments when funding from the GLRI became a reality.

The GLRI is producing results around the region, but more work remains. Over 2,080 projects have been funded by the program so far. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has documented over 100 success stories around the region and you can view those stories here or on our interactive map. Despite progress from Minnesota to New York, more work still remains.

AFTER: This portion of the Kinnickinnic River is fully naturalized. It can now manage flood- waters while being a beautiful amenity to the neighborhood. Photo courtesy of the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center.

This portion of the Kinnickinnic River in Milwaukee has been restored thanks to the GLRI. Photo courtesy of the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center.

The 43 Areas of Concern (AOC)—areas that have high levels of pollution or ecological impairment—were identified in 1987; in the last 27 years, only five have been declared clean enough to be removed from the list and only two of those sites are in the United States. Thanks to GLRI funding, several U.S. AOCs are close to being delisted this year, including the Sheboygan River, Wisconsin; White Lake, Michigan; Deer Lake, Michigan; and Waukegan River Harbor, Illinois.

 The First Five Years

The GLRI has been able to fund over 2,000 projects since it was first launched in 2010. These restoration projects have created good-paying jobs. For example:

  • 125 jobs were created for a $10 million project to restore fish and wildlife habitat in Muskegon Lake, a Great Lakes Area of Concern in Michigan.
  • 177 people are employed to control the invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes, which costs the U.S. and Canadian governments $20 million annually.
  • 174 jobs were created, some of which were filled by at-risk youth, to remove dams and other barriers in a 150-mile stretch of the Milwaukee River system. Restoration programs also lead to long-term economic benefit.

Read more about Great Lakes success stories here–we’ve chronicled over 110 successes from around the region. You can find a slide show for success stories in your state, view stories on our interactive map, or view the complete list by state.

A Brookings Institution report shows that for every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration results in a $2 return in the form of increased fishing, tourism and home values. A study by economists at Grand Valley State University, the Muskegon Lake restoration project is expected to generate a 6-to-1 return on investment. With a proven track record of success, Great Lakes restoration is one of the best returns on the federal dollar in the budget.

The Next Five Years
The first five years of the GLRI were governed by an Action Plan that laid out the priorities for funding and the goals of the GLRI. A new Action Plan for 2015-2019 is being written, and will be available for public comment in the summer of 2014. In revising the old Action Plan, the HOW Coalition is hopeful that the EPA will take the findings from the GAO into account as they work on their Action Plan for 2015-2019. The HOW Coalition’s comments to the EPA regarding the Action Plan can be read here.

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