Coalition to Congress: ‘Do Not Waver in Support for Great Lakes Programs’

Funding levels of federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. GRAPHIC / Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

Days after the Obama Administration released its fiscal year 2013 budget, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is urging the U.S. Congress to hold the line against cuts to Great Lakes restoration programs that are producing results in communities across the region.

President Obama’s budget keeps Great Lakes restoration on track,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Now we’re looking for the U.S. Congress to not waver in its commitment to restore a resource that more than 30 million people depend on for their drinking water, jobs and way of life.”

Listen to an audio recording of the coalition’s briefing on the budget for reporters.

In President Obama’s budget, the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are set to receive approximately $727 million in federal funds to support Great Lakes restoration and clean water programs. Historically the president’s budget request sets the framework for Congressional budget negotiations.

“Over the last three years, President Obama and the U.S. Congress have worked together in a spirit of bi-partisanship to support Great Lakes restoration,” said Chad Lord, policy director for the Coalition. “We want that to continue because restoration programs are producing results—and there’s more work to do. Cutting restoration funding will cost taxpayers more money because problems will only become more difficult and expensive to solve the longer we wait.”

In communities around the region, restoration projects are putting people to work to restore the Great Lakes and the rivers, harbor and wetlands that feed them. Progress can be seen in communities across the region:

  • Fish and wildlife are returning to places after decades-long absences;
  • Businesses are emerging and thriving on restored waterfronts; and
  • People are fishing, kayaking and swimming in restored waterways.

Despite the progress, there are continued signs that the Great Lakes need help:

  • Algae blooms are returning in Lake Erie, hurting tourism, small businesses and fishing;
  • Fish consumption advisories and beach closures still persist; and
  • New threats like the Asian carp have been discovered within the Lakes.

Our message to congress is simple: keep the pedal to the metal and continue to support restoration programs that are working for people, communities and the Lakes,” said Skelding. “The bottom line is investments in the Great Lakes offer some of the best returns on the dollar in the federal budget.”

President Obama’s budget holds the line for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, recommending $300 million for the program—the same amount Congress appropriated in the fiscal year 2012 budget.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative supports programs to confront the most pressing threats to the Lakes, such as toxic contamination, polluted runoff, destruction of wetlands and habitat and introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species such as the Asian carp.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund funding levels. GRAPHIC / Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

The president’s budget cuts the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to communities across the nation to halt sewage contamination through traditional infrastructure and so-called “green” infrastructure, which restores natural systems like wetlands to absorb storm water before it overwhelms sewers.

The Obama Administration budget recommends $1.175 billion for the program—a reduction of nearly $294 million, or 20 percent, from the $1.468 billion Congress appropriated in the fiscal year 2012 budget.

Based on a fixed formula, the eight Great Lakes states stand to receive approximately $427 million through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in President Obama’s budget—a decrease of approximately $110 million from the $533 million Congress appropriated last year.

State Fiscal Year 2012 Enacted President Obama FY 2013 budget request
Illinois $66 million $53 million
Indiana $35 million $28 million
Michigan $63 million $50 million
Minnesota $26 million $21 million
New York $161 million $129 million
Ohio $82 million $66 million
Pennsylvania $58 million $46 million
Wisconsin $39 million $32 million
TOTAL $533 million $427 million

The nation faces a staggering tab to deal with the chronic problem of sewage overflows caused by antiquated sewers. The U.S. EPA estimates that the nation faces a $298 billion backlog in wastewater infrastructure improvements—with communities in the Great Lakes basin facing a $23.3 billion tab.

Restoring the Great Lakes and other U.S. iconic waters depends on the nation confronting the epidemic of sewage overflows,” said Lord. “The nation needs to be increasing—not cutting—these investments, which are good for the environment and economy.”

A $1 investment in Great Lakes restoration produces at least $2 in economic benefit, according to the Brookings Institution. A study by Grand Valley State University economists found that a $10 million restoration project at Muskegon Lake in Michigan produced more than $66 million in economic benefits via increased property values, more tourism and higher tax revenues. The University of Michigan has found that more than 1.5 million people region-wide depend on the Great Lakes for their jobs — worth more than $60 billion in wages annually.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 120 environmental, conservation and outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

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