Great Lakes advocates in D.C. to urge Congress to keep restoration efforts on track

Wisconsin State Farmer

Washington, D.C. -  Days after leaked Trump Administration budget numbers telegraphed steep cuts of up to 97 percent for core Great Lakes programs, advocates for the lakes gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of congress to keep federal restoration efforts on track.

“We have many strong Great Lakes champions in Congress,” said Todd Ambs, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, “and we’re looking forward to working with them to maintain full funding for our core programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Great Lakes investments are producing results, but serious threats remain. Cutting funding now will only make projects more difficult and expensive the longer we wait.”

This annual gathering, known as Great Lakes Day, brought in around 100 citizens from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York to meet with members of congress to discuss the impact restoration funding has had on their communities, their jobs, and their way of life. Great Lakes Day was March 15-16 this year and was hosted by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and the Great Lakes Commission.

Activists from around the region were asking their U.S. representatives and senators to:

A member of Senator Johnson's staff view a video about Great Lakes restoration progress in Frog Bay.

  • Fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million to protect clean drinking water, keep beaches open, stop toxic algal blooms, and support outdoor recreation.
  • Curb sewage overflows and protect clean drinking water by supporting the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds—funding for states to address outdated infrastructure.
  • Defend from cuts core programs at federal agencies that are critical to the operation of Great Lakes programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The gathering in Washington, D.C., came amid Trump Administration executive orders to roll back clean water protections and threats to cut Great Lakes programs and the budgets of federal agencies that administer those programs. The Coalition is urging public officials to hold the line against cuts to both on-the-ground restoration efforts that are producing results and funding for agencies like the EPA that are responsible for ensuring every American has access to clean water.

“Robust funding for core Great Lakes restoration programs need to go hand-in-hand with support for agencies,” said Ambs. “Both investments are critical to the millions of people who depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life. Our work is not done until all of the region’s people—particularly those who have borne the brunt of racial, environmental and economic injustice—can have access to affordable, clean, safe drinking water; eat fish that are safe and not toxic; and live healthy lives that are not undermined by toxic pollutants and legacy contaminants.”

Since 2010, the federal government has invested more than $2.2 billion in the region to clean up toxic pollution, restore wildlife habitat, control invasive species, and prevent polluted runoff from entering the lakes. More than 3,800 miles of river habitat have been opened up to fish through dam removals, and 150,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat have been restored. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has documented more than 140 Great Lakes restoration success stories.

In addition to advocating for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Coalition was speaking with Congress about funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds that provide low-interest loans to help communities pay for expensive infrastructure improvement projects. More than $192 billion is needed over the next 20 years, according to the EPA, to update the drinking water and waste water in the Great Lakes states.

“Many communities in the Great Lakes region are faced with crumbling infrastructure, aging sewer lines, and outdated drinking water facilities,” said Ambs. “Communities and businesses are counting on reliable water infrastructure that are the foundation of our health, economy and way of life.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administers the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds as well as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Advocates have listed defending the EPA as a top priority.

“The Environmental Protection Agency helped resurrect the Great Lakes in the 70s and 80s,” said Ambs, “and since its inception, the agency has been a strong defender of clean water and clean air for all Americans. The protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and other rivers, lakes and streams across the country simply cannot happen without a strong Environmental Protection Agency.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 145 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. For more information visit http://www.healthylakes.org Follow us on twitter @healthylakes.