Great Lakes Restoration Strategy Unveiled
On Dec. 12, the federal government unveiled a blueprint for restoring and protecting the Great Lakes. The long-awaited document -- the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy -- calls for actions such as controlling invasive species, reducing agricultural runoff and improving drinking water.
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson also announced that he has committed to specific actions among federal agencies to accelerate cleanup of contaminated sediment, return another 200,000 acres of wetlands to ecological health in equal partnership with the states and make beaches cleaner.
"One year ago, we accepted President Bush's unprecedented charge to devise a strategy for prioritizing future actions to protect the Great Lakes," Johnson said. "This blueprint is the next step in ensuring these majestic lakes remain an international treasure."
The Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002 authorizes $270 million in funding over five years for cleanups of contaminated hot spots at 31 areas of concern in the United States. In 2004, the first year funds were available, Congress appropriated $9.9 million. In 2005, Congress appropriated $22.3 million, and $30 million will be available in 2006. President Bush requested $50 million in 2006.
On Dec. 9, EPA announced the approval of a $50 million Legacy Act cleanup of the Ashtabula River in Ohio, a tributary to Lake Erie. Cleanups of Black Lagoon, an inlet of the Detroit River in Trenton, Mich., and Newton Creek/Hog Island Inlet in Superior, Wis., were completed last month. Another project is under way at Ruddiman Creek in Muskegon, Mich. More projects will be announced in the coming months.
Johnson also announced that EPA will work with Congress to ensure that the interim barrier halting the advance of Asian Carp to the Great Lakes system is made permanent.
In addition, EPA will work with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite projects to restore wetlands and aquatic habitat. This effort includes streamlining the wetlands permit process specifically for restoration and water quality projects in the Great Lakes basin. EPA and the states will also take action to restore another 200,000 acres in the basin so they can perform their indispensable, natural functions. Healthy wetlands support biological diversity, help maintain valuable economic resources like fisheries, provide flood control and filter pollution.
The agency also will supplement and bolster beach monitoring and notification programs in lakeside communities. EPA proposes a three-year, three-step effort to perform watershed-based sanitary surveys in Great Lakes recreational waters to help identify sources of pollution. Surveys will be done in 2006 and the first pilot projects should begin in the Great Lakes basin in 2007.
The strategy is available at http://www.glrc.us.
On Dec. 13, the Great Lakes governors and premiers signed agreements at the Council of Great Lakes Governors' (CGLG) Leadership Summit to provide protections for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.
The agreements, which include a ban on new diversions of water outside the basin with limited exceptions, were approved by the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and the premiers of Ontario and Québec.
"The new agreements will improve and protect the health and economic vitality of the Great Lakes region and allow future generations to share the same benefits enjoyed today by millions of families, by businesses and by visitors from throughout the world," said Ohio Governor Bob Taft (R), co-chairman of the CGLG.
"The Great Lakes are an important resource for many varied interests -- from the people who fish and canoe its waters to the manufacturers and farmers in the Provinces and the States -- and their involvement and suggestions helped ensure that these agreements would be both strong and fair," said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D), CGLG co-chairman.
The agreements detail how the states and provinces will manage and protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin and will provide a framework for each state and province to enact laws protecting the basin.
The agreements include the following points:
- There will be a ban on new diversions of water from the basin. Limited exceptions could be allowed, such as for public water supply purposes in communities near the basin, but exceptions would be strictly regulated.
- The states and provinces will use a consistent standard to review proposed uses of Great Lakes water.
- The collection of technical data will be strengthened, and the states and provinces will share the information, which will improve decision-making by the governments.
- Regional goals and objectives for water conservation and efficiency will be developed, and they will be reviewed every five years. Each state and province will develop and implement a water conservation and efficiency program.
- The waters of the Basin are recognized as a shared public treasure and there is a strong commitment to continued public involvement in the implementation of the agreements.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement can be viewed at http://www.cglg.org/projects/water/docs/12-13-05/Great_Lakes-St_Lawrence_River_Basin_Sustainable_Water_Resources_Agreement.pdf.
This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.