Later today, the U.S. EPA is hosting a call with Great Lakes stakeholders. The agency is seeking input on Great Lakes restoration priorities — for fiscal year 2013, fiscal year 2012, and in general. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition will be conveying the following three messages with the intent of working with the EPA to help make a good program even better:
1. FUNDING: EPA must budget an additional $475 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in its fiscal year 2013 budget. We cannot afford not to protect the Great Lakes—they are the source of drinking water for 30 million people. Restoration projects are already producing results. For example:
- In Ashtabula, Ohio, a $60 million cleanup of the Ashtabula River resulted in the removal of 630,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment that contained more than 25,000 pounds of hazardous PCBs and other toxic compounds. The cleanup improved water quality and deepened the river channel for maritime commerce, fishing, and recreational boating.
- In Milwaukee, Wis., state and federal agencies completed a $22 million clean-up project that resulted in the removal of 167,000 cubic yards of toxic mud from the Kinnickinnic River, which flows into Lake Michigan. The cleanup restored navigation to the river that had been long avoided and attracted new businesses, including a new office complex and additional docks to marinas.
- In Saginaw Bay, Mich., a $3.1 million wetlands restoration project restored more than 900 acres of wetlands in Tobico Marsh and permanently protected roughly 25,000 acres of wetlands. It is estimated that recreational activities, such as hunting, fishing, and birding, will generate $239 million over a 30-year period.
In community after community, Great Lakes restoration activities are creating jobs, protecting public health and upholding a way of life. However, there is much more work to do. As we reported several days ago on this site, the amount of applications for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding exceeded the amount of funds available 3-to-1.
For those worried about being prudent with taxpayer money in this tough economic climate, we say: “We agree.” Great Lakes restoration is one of the best returns on the federal dollar in the budget.
And, while pressure to balance the U.S. budget will not diminish; neither will the problems facing the Great Lakes. The bottom line is: If we cut funding now, it will only cost more later because all of these projects will only get harder and more expensive the longer we wait.
2. FOCUS: Federal investments should continue to be focused on the highest priority on-the-ground, in-the-water activities that produce the greatest measurable restoration results. The region’s citizens, businesses, industry, public officials and environmental groups have united behind a strong, solid strategy to guide restoration efforts. We know what needs to be done and where we can get the biggest bang for our buck; now it’s time to do it.
What about research? Investments in research and monitoring are important and vital because they tell us how to adapt our plans. However, funding for research and monitoring should not exceed 25 percent of overall Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Further, research should lead directly to on-the-ground, in-the-water work.
3. FLEXIBILITY: The EPA can promote watershed restoration by putting forward a more flexible Request for Proposals that encourages collaboration and partnerships and sets geographic priorities.
Restoring ecosystem health often requires an integrated approach—tackling a suite of stressors through collaborative and integrated action.
Currently, the GLRI applications process has made it challenging for groups to work together by categorizing restoration activities by size; cost; geography; and issue area – which has had the net effect, in some cases, of fragmenting restoration activities.
The EPA can accelerate restoration efforts in a more efficient and effective manner by updating GLRI application and evaluation criteria to encourage holistic restoration on the watershed-level.
Further, by setting geographic restoration priority areas, the EPA can support a suite of restoration activities whose benefit is greater than the sum of its parts—rather than a piecemeal approach in which results may be harder to evaluate.
In short, the EPA and Obama Administration have done a tremendous job leading the effort to restore the Great Lakes—the source of more than 90 percent of the nation’s surface fresh water. We encourage the EPA to take these comments to heart to make a good program even better.
Read the coalition’s letter to Obama Administration on implementation of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.