Testimony by Healing Our Waters©-Great Lakes Coalition

to the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Regarding the

Department of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act, 2014

Submitted by: Chad W. Lord, Policy Director

April 19, 2013

Members of the subcommittee. It is an honor to provide this written testimony regarding one of our world’s most prized natural and economic resources--the Great Lakes.

The Healing Our Waters©-Great Lakes Coalition joins a bi-partisan group of 38 Representatives in asking the Subcommittee to support $300 million for the popular and effective Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in fiscal year 2014.  We appreciate the strong support the Subcommittee has provided over the last four years and ask that you maintain this support next year.  We feel that our request is well justified because:

  • The economies of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin hinge on a healthy, restored Great Lakes;
  • Funds are being quickly spent on the right priorities;
  • Projects are producing results; and
  • If funding is cut, projects will only become more difficult and expensive the longer we wait.

 

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is comprised of more than 120 environmental, conservation, hunting, and fishing organizations; museums, zoos, and aquariums; and businesses representing millions of people whose goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes.  We came together to fight for the Great Lakes, and we recognize the need for federal assistance for all great waters, including Puget Sound, the Everglades, Coastal Louisiana, and Chesapeake Bay.

Mr. Chairman and ranking member, 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, and millions more benefit from the commerce and business that depend on the waters of the Great Lakes.  Unfortunately, the health of the Great Lakes continues to be seriously threatened by problems such as untreated sewage, toxic pollution, algal blooms, and invasive species.  The eight states that border the Great Lakes and numerous non-governmental organizations have invested a significant amount of their own resources in restoring these bodies of water. Additional funding, however, is needed.  Unless the federal government continues to invest in the lakes these problems will get worse and the price we pay will be higher.

People in the region recognize the federal government cannot do it alone, which is why Americans have come together to help heal the lakes and undertake one of our nation’s largest ecosystem restoration projects.  Non-governmental groups, industries, cities, and states are forging public-private partnerships to clean up toxic hot spots, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and combat invasive species.  Our Coalition has invested almost half a million dollars of our own resources to help our member groups restore and protect this resource.  The philanthropic community has also invested approximately $100 million over the past three years through initiatives to educate citizens and policy makers about the Great Lakes environment and to identify actions and policies that most effectively will restore its health. 

Economic Benefits
Cleaning up the Great Lakes is not only critical for the health and quality of life in the region, it also drives economic development – and jobs – in communities for years to come.  Investments in Great Lakes restoration are creating short-term jobs and leading to long-term economic benefits for the Great Lakes states and the country.  A Brookings Institution report shows that every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration generates at least $2 in return, making Great Lakes restoration one of the best investments on the dollar in the federal budget.  More recent research from Grand Valley State University suggests that the return for certain projects are closer to 6-to-1.  The University of Michigan has also demonstrated that over 1.5 million jobs are connected to the Great Lakes, accounting for more than $60 billion in wages annually.  According to the Great Lakes Commission, more than 37 million people boat, fish, hunt and view wildlife in the region, generating over $50 billion annually.  Great Lakes businesses and individuals account for about 28 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data.  We have also seen jobs being created by our nation’s efforts to clean up the Great Lakes and restore fish and wildlife habitat.  These jobs include wetland scientists, electricians, engineers, landscape architects, plumbers, truck drivers, and many others. 

While we do not have precise figures on the total number of jobs that have been created by the effort to clean up the Great Lakes, it is likely in the thousands. Consider:

  • 125 jobs were created for a $10 million project to restore fish and wildlife habitat in Muskegon Lake, a Great Lakes Area of Concern in Michigan.
  • 177 people are employed to control the invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes, which costs the U.S. and Canadian governments $20 million annually.
  • 174 jobs were created, some of which were filled by at-risk youth, to remove dams and other barriers in a 150-mile stretch of the Milwaukee River system.

Specifically, stories like that of small business owner Jim Porath of Porath Contractors are becoming increasingly common.  Jim tells of having to let go half his work force when the recent recession hit.  GLRI investments in Michigan allowed him to hire half that work force back to restoring wetlands that filter nutrients out of water and create habitat for wildlife, both of which are so important to Michigan’s economy. There are many people like Jim, whose stories underscore the importance of the program both to our environment and economy.

Investments Producing Results
The people that have been put to work protecting and restoring the Great Lakes are working on projects that are producing results:

  • The Presque Isle, PA, Area of Concern was delisted and the management actions necessary for delisting were completed in the Sheboygan, WI, AOC.  As a result, Sheboygan and other cities have begun debating how to market and develop their cities after years of being pegged as toxic hot spots. 
  • 21 beneficial use impairments (BUIs) at 12 AOCs were removed, bringing the cumulative removal total to 33, exceeding the GLRI Action Plan target.  More BUIs have been removed since the GLRI began in 2010 than between 1987 and 2009.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, NRCS, and NOAA (among others) restored, protected, or enhanced over 90,000 acres of wetlands and other habitat in the Great Lakes.
  • 800 river miles were cleared of barriers resulting in fish swimming into stretches of river where they’ve been absent for decades.
  • Farmers implemented conservation practices on nearly 280,000 acres of Great Lakes farms to reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into Great Lakes tributaries.(i)

These numbers are impressive.  The stories behind them, however, are more illuminating as to the types of results that we are seeing and what is being accomplished:

  • At the Ashtabula River in Ohio, a sediment cleanup and habitat restoration project has restored the lower two miles of the river and advanced efforts to get it de-listed as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.  The project has improved water quality and deepened the river channel, making the lower Ashtabula suitable again for maritime commerce, fishing, and recreation boating. 
  • The Grand Calumet River, which flows through a heavily industrialized area south of Chicago, was for years considered America’s most polluted river.  Thanks to a major cleanup, a large wetland was restored and more than 575,000 cubic yards of toxic mud was removed from the Lake Michigan tributary.  The restoration project addressed pollution that led to fish consumption advisories, destroyed wildlife habitat, and an array of other environmental problems.
  • At Clear Creek in Freedom, New York, excess stream erosion and sediment, in-stream barriers, elevated water temperatures, and competition from invasive fish restricted brook trout to a few tributaries in the watershed.  A Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project restored 1,200 linear feet of in-stream habitat and re-established fish passage over a sheet-pile grade control structure, reconnecting six miles of prime trout habitat.(ii)

More stories on the over 1,500 GLRI-funded projects currently underway can be found at http://healthylakes.org/successes/restoration-success-stories/.

The administrative accomplishments of EPA and the other federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, NRCS, and the National Park Service are equally impressive.  The federal agencies have been able to quickly convert the funding they receive through the GLRI to supplement restoration activities through existing, authorized programs.  This structure, guided by a number of plans, (iii) allows for funds to move quickly from appropriations to EPA through the interagency agreements EPA reaches with the other agencies and onto the ground to complete important restoration activities.  This model also ensures accountability through the establishment of an “orchestra leader” (EPA), helps accelerate progress, and avoids potential duplication, all of which help save taxpayers money while focusing efforts on the highest priorities. (iv)

Making a Good Program Better
To date, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has shown impressive results. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the GLRI continue to improve. Now that our nation is approaching year five of the GLRI, we have identified issues that we believe must be looked at by EPA and the federal interagency task force to ensure future effectiveness of the Great Lakes restoration effort. We believe that these changes will help to make a good program even better.

EPA’s Science Advisory Board noted in a recent report that the GLRI Action Plan supported getting started because enough was known about underlying causes and potential remedies to impairments in the Great Lakes to initiate action; that the Action Plan identifies most of the key actions needed; and that the Action Plan is largely consistent with previous plans and strategy documents.  However, the SAB’s report pointed out that the GLRI needs to do better research, monitoring, and assessment.  It also pointed out that the GLRI lacks a formal science-based framework for assessing progress and evaluating future priorities. We believe this science-based framework and independent science advice is critical as it adds value to Great Lakes restoration; that the region’s scientists must be engaged in producing and helping implement that plan and not just asked to react to a federally-generated adaptive management blueprint; and that EPA use an appropriate portion of GLRI funds to implement the federal and non-federal research, monitoring, and assessment required for future success.

Conclusion
Thank you again for the opportunity to share our views with you.  The GLRI is a highly effective model that is delivering results.  However, we all must keep in mind that it will take time for all of us to see lakewide environmental improvement in an ecosystem the size of the Great Lakes.  We’re seeing hundreds of trees but it still will take a little time to make them into a forest.

We also recognize the tough choices you face, but we believe that restoring the Great Lakes is not only good for the environment but also is good for the national economy as well.  We hope you will support the President’s FY 2014 budget request and maintain $300 million for the GLRI next year.

  1. U.S.EPA. “Fiscal Year 2014 Justification of Appropriation Estimates for the Committee on Appropriations.” Page 278

  2. Found at www.healthylakes.org/successes/.
  3. E.g., Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes (2005); Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan (2010)
  4. Even with quick federal action, the Great Lakes region has a shortened work season because of winter conditions.  This can result in a longer time period for grantees to outlay GLRI funds rather than just the obligation of funds.

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