Federal Funding to Keep the Great Lakes Great

The U.S. President, Barack Obama, began to make good on a campaign
promise calling for a $5 billion (US), 10 year program aimed at restoration
of the Great Lakes. This summer, the President delivered his request for
funding to the U.S. Department of the Interior and in that document the
President requested a boost in spending of approximately $475 million in
FY 2010 targeting Great Lakes cleanup and restoration efforts. The additional
funding adds to the roughly $500 million that Congress routinely appropriates
to the Great Lakes each year. In total, the President’s request would mean
nearly $1 billion for the effort. At the time that this article was written, both
the House and the Senate have passed their versions of the FY 2010 Interior
appropriations bill and the House has passed the conference committee version
which marries the two original bills into one. The Senate is expected to take up the conference committee version in the coming weeks and it is widely expected to pass.

In addition to simply adding money to the coffers, President Obama has also
appointed a “Great Lakes Czar” to oversee cleanup and restoration efforts.
The President named Cameron Davis, president of the Chicago-based Alliance
for the Great Lakes, to coordinate federal programs on the lakes, including efforts
to clean up contaminated sediments, reduce existing pollution sources and s
tanch the onslaught of invasive species in recent decades. Upon hearing of
Mr. Davis’ assignment to the position, Jack Bails, the Chairman of the Alliance
for the Great Lakes, stated that “Cameron Davis’ work at the Alliance for the
Great Lakes during the last 23 years has helped put the Great Lakes on the
national radar – not only with the new administration and Congress, but with
states, cities and countless citizens. His passion and commitment to the
Great Lakes has earned him the unofficial title of ‘Mr. Great Lakes’ in recent
years. This makes it official.” Davis will report to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and his official title will be “Senior Adviser on the
Great Lakes”.

In his new role, Mr. Davis will be largely accountable for overseeing the new
restoration projects that are funded in the 2010 budget. The projects that feed
into this effort are wide and varied, but fall into a handful of major categories:
partnerships, monitoring, habitat restoration, thwarting invasive species and
near-shore health. A sampling of the FY 2010 Great Lakes restoration programs
are detailed, below.

The US EPA will coordinate/collaborate with Canada, Federal Agencies, states,
ndustry, tribes and NGOs, and the public to implement critical lake-wide
management plans, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Great Lakes
Restoration Initiative programs, projects and activities. This effort is funded at
a level of $13 million and will allow for strategic implementation of critical projects
that have already been identified by Great Lakes resource managers. The US EPA
will also spearhead an effort to coordinate the development of monitoring networks
and enhance related state agency and university capabilities with a goal of developing comprehensive monitoring and predictive ecosystem capabilities. This $15.5 million
program is specifically aimed at monitoring near-shore water quality and identifying “non-point” sources of pollution. Non-point pollution includes septic system a
nd leech-field emissions, agricultural runoff, and erosion from stream banks and
construction sites.

Through the “Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act,” the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service will award grants to the eight Great Lakes States, Native
American Tribes and private interests to implement practical solutions to restore
and conserve the region’s fish and wildlife resources. This $8 million effort is the
primary federal program dedicated to restoring important fish and wildlife and the
habitat on which they depend. In conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife effort, a
separate Bureau of Indian Affairs program will award $3 million in grants to
approximately 25 tribes and inter-tribal organizations to protect and restore
culturally significant native species such as wild rice and the habitats which
support these species.

Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will establish and enhance
programs that minimize the risk of introduction and impacts of aquatic invasive
species by establishing a risk assessment program that supports decisions for
State regulation, industry self-regulation, and habitat restoration programs.
Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service will begin to implement elements of
a Great Lakes Ballast water initiative including supporting the Ballast Water
Technology Demonstration Program.

Clearly the President’s words were more than just an idle campaign promise;
this set of efforts will undoubtedly result in a cleaner, more vibrant Great lakes
ecosystem.

As an editorial aside, I can vividly recall watching filmstrips in grade school that
showed brown froth at least one foot thick sloshing onto the shores of Lake Erie.
The narrator told of how damaged the lake had become; raw sewage and
industrial run-off polluted the once pristine waters. I can recall it so vividly
because I was upset and ashamed that we had allowed our great lake to become
so fouled. I bring up this memory to point out how far we’ve come in our cleanup
of the Great Lakes in just a few decades. Today, there is no brown foam sitting
atop the water. Today, children can swim off the beaches and boaters can enjoy
the open water. To be sure, we have more to do, but if what we’ve already
accomplished is any indicator, the future of the Great Lakes will be
bright, indeed.