Proposed funding cuts for Great Lakes should not stand

Since 2010, more than $2.4 billion of federal money has been allocated to support cleanup efforts and other projects in the Great Lakes region.

Some people may question whether that investment was worth the return. We’ll respond by saying: without a doubt.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative yet again is under attack. The GLRI has provided much-needed funding for more than 4,700 projects in the Great Lakes Basin that focus on a variety of important efforts, like protecting our waterways from invasive aquatic species, or remediating years of pollution and restoring native habitat lost or drastically altered by human hands.

Some of the country’s top executive officials, quite possibly due to their lack of connection with our culture and way of life here, want to slash GLRI funding by 90 percent, cutting the appropriation from the annual $300 million the program typically receives to just $30 million. Part of the argument being that the states surrounding the Great Lakes, rather than the federal government, should pay for the work on their own. But the importance of the Great Lakes to the country as a whole should not be overlooked.

Millions upon millions of tons of iron ore have been extracted from operations surrounding Lake Superior, much of it shipped through Great Lakes waterways and sent on to steel makers in nearby states. In turn, that product is used in many other industries, like construction and transportation, further supporting other regional economies and providing jobs for working people and their families in those communities.

Tourism and recreation, commercial shipping and fishing also are all critical facets of the Great Lakes Basin’s regional economy, which makes up a sizable portion of the Midwest economy, a major contributor to the health of the entire U.S. economy.

Anything short of full support for the GLRI program would be a terrible misstep by our federal government and leaders.

These vast bodies of water make up about one-fifth of the world’s supply of surface fresh water, and 84 percent of surface fresh water in North America, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

The Great Lakes Basin, where many of the GLRI-funded projects take place, includes roughly 10 percent of the country’s population, and encompasses about 7 percent of the nation’s farm production.

Combined, the Great Lakes span 10,210 miles of shoreline and cover 94,250 square miles of water area, with a total volume equal to 5,439 cubic miles, the EPA website states.

Not only are these lakes great in terms of their sheer size, but they have a tremendous influence on a wealth of cultural, agricultural, economic and meteorological components of life for millions of people who live within their watersheds.

Sure, $300 million is a lot of money, more than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. But it’s a drop in the bucket as far as the country’s nearly $22 trillion debt goes, and it provides critical support for a program aimed at improving a region with one of the most valuable resources in the world: fresh water.

Some may say the GLRI program doesn’t affect me personally, therefore I have no qualms about seeing it cut. But we’d argue that the program, much like the Great Lakes themselves, impact all of us one way or another, either directly or indirectly.

Ensuring that these freshwater seas and surrounding watersheds remain viable is without a doubt important to the whole country, making the GLRI funding a federal concern, and any cuts to that program simply shortsighted and foolish.


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