The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is supporting a new Great Lakes action plan that will guide federal restoration efforts for the next five years. The plan, released today by the U.S. EPA at a meeting of Great Lakes mayors in Chicago, will prioritize federal Great Lakes investments to restore fish and wildlife habitat, clean up toxic pollution, combat invasive species like Asian carp, and prevent farm and urban runoff that causes algal blooms.
“This plan will keep Great Lakes restoration efforts on track,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “The results we’ve seen over the first five years are a testament to a solid original strategy and the resources to implement it. We’re encouraged that the plan unveiled today will help us continue to make progress that improves the health of the lakes and communities which rely on them.”
The new plan—known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II—prioritizes federal investments to the Great Lakes, the largest source of surface freshwater on the planet. Since 2009, the nation has invested more than $1.6 billion through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to curb some of the most pressing problems facing the lakes.
Federal contributions have accelerated the local cleanup of PCBs and other toxic pollutants in rivers and harbors around the region, in so-called Areas of Concern. Restoration programs have also protected and restored fish and wildlife habitat, as well as supported farm conservation programs to reduce excess animal waste and fertilizers from running off farm fields and into area waterways, causing harmful algal blooms.
“The Action Plan is tackling the most pressing problems—and producing results,” said Ambs. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been an innovative program that shows the tremendous good that can come from the federal government working with local and state partners.”
The new Action Plan will build off of successes over the last five years, while evaluating the effectiveness of restoration efforts to make them as efficient and effective as possible. The plan itself was an innovation when the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was started in 2009. Public input and a technical advisory board have helped to shape each plan—and all of the funding for the initiative has been funneled through the EPA and then distributed to more than a dozen other federal agencies, which has enabled better coordination among agencies and, as a result, more effective on-the-ground projects.
“We’re glad to see that the new plan will track and measure progress—that will be incredibly important,” said Ambs. “This summer’s harmful algal bloom in Toledo, which left more than 400,000 people without safe drinking water, underscores that there are still very serious problems. In the same way that we have been able to carefully measure progress on the clean-up of contaminated sites around the region, we need a system that can tell us what’s working and what’s not, as we work to reduce polluted runoff that has literally made it unsafe to drink the water in some places. In five years, it would be great to celebrate our progress on harmful algal blooms, as we have with the cleanup of toxic pollution and restoration of habitat.”
The plan comes as Great Lakes advocates fight to maintain funding in the U.S. Congress for restoration programs. U.S. House and Senate Interior-EPA funding bills recommended $300 million for the initiative—the current level of funding for the program. The U.S. House and Senate also recently passed short-term budget bills that maintain Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding until after the November elections. Advocates are at the same time working to restoring Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands that are fundamental to the health of the lakes. Recent legislation passed by the U.S. House would roll back these essential protections.
“Continued funding for important projects that help to reduce pollutants into our waterways is critical,” said Ambs. “But those projects will be undermined if we’re making it harder to protect small streams and wetlands—the very waters that feed into the Great Lakes and help filter out pollution before it reaches them.”
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 115 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at www.healthylakes.org or follow us on twitter @healthylakes.