Fact Sheet Mar 1, 2023

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is a federal funded program that was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes – the largest fresh water system in the world.

Every dollar spent on GLRI produces $3.35 of additional economic activity.

The Great Lakes supply drinking water to 30 million Americans. Since its inception, GLRI has allocated over $3.8 billion, funding more than 4,000 restoration projects – many of which take place in our national parks. These projects are aimed at cleaning up toxic pollution and improving water quality, restoring native habitat and combatting invasive species.

NPCA has played a leading role in the Healing our Waters (HOW) Coalition since its fruition in 2004. As a national co-chair for this group, the coalition brings together representatives from 170 organizations that have one goal in common: to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

GLRI’s Long Term Goals Include:

  1. Delisting All Areas of Concern or Toxic Areas

  2. Ensuring clean, healthy waters for drinking and recreation

  3. Ensuring healthy fish populations

  4. Combatting invasive species

  5. Eliminating harmful algal blooms

  6. Restoring and protecting habitat to sustain healthy ecosystems and native species.

Protecting the Great Lakes Before GLRI

GLRI is not the first federal program designed to protect the Great Lakes. Recognizing the value of the Great Lakes as the world’s largest fresh water source, its transportation networks, its economic impact, and plentiful natural resources, numerous efforts have been made to ensure that they remain healthy and thriving for generations to come.

How GLRI Works

The Environmental Protection Agency manages and directs GLRI funding to clean up the most polluted sites in the region. This work is implemented with many federal agencies including the Department of the Interior (DOI), Department of Transportation (DOT), and others. Coordination among federal agencies and partners is critical to GLRI’s success. The National Park Service is one of the most effective leaders in successfully utilizing these funds to advance restoration efforts in national parks across the region.

Action Plans

Since 2010, federal agencies and partners have come together every five years to create a GLRI action plan. Action plans lay out GLRI’s guiding principles, objectives, and focus areas for the upcoming five years. The third edition of the GLRI action plan, which is currently guiding the program, lists five focus areas: toxic substances and Areas of Concern, invasive species, nearshore health and nonpoint source pollution, habitat and wildlife protection and restoration, and foundations for future restoration actions. Federal agencies and partners are beginning to plan for GLRI Action Plan IV, prioritizing GLRI needs for 2025 - 2029. Opportunities for public discussion on the plan will begin soon.

Importance of Robust Federal Funding

Each year, Congress determines how much of the federal budget will be allocated to GLRI. Congress agreed to fund the GLRI up to $425 million annually through 2024. NPCA calls on Congress to fund the full $425 million.

Outcomes, Future and Economic Impact

In its 13-year history, GLRI has made substantial progress towards protecting the Great Lakes. 460,000 acres of habitat, including over 65,000 acres of coastal wetlands, have been protected, restored, or enhanced because of GLRI. And more than 6,000 river-miles have been cleared for fish passage.

While GLRI’s ecological impact is profound, its economic impact cannot be overstated. For every $1 spent on GLRI, nearly $4 in additional economic activity is produced. Our 10 national parks in the Great Lakes welcome more than 10 million visitors annually and collectively support more than $750 million in economic activity and thousands of jobs. Together, they protect more than 620 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, beaches, dunes and wetlands.

Read more from NPCA