The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2014 will greatly benefit the Great Lakes by providing funding for restoration projects in the region. The Restoration Bill was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday and is currently seeking approval in the Senate.
The bill authorizes $300 million annually over the next five years to be invested in restoring the Great Lakes. Projects have been underway since 2010, when the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched with the support of the Obama administration. It has provided over $1.6 billion dollars since then and proponents of the Restoration Bill want to ensure that federal funding continues over the next five years.
The Great Lakes are one of the most valuable resources for Americans. They contain twenty-one percent of the fresh water on the world’s surface. Not only do they supply a huge amount of fresh water for the surrounding states but they stimulate the national economy. The fishing industry on all five of the lakes combined is worth an estimated $7 billion. They also bring in around $1 billion in tourism revenue each year and provide more than 1.5 million jobs in total.
These lakes have proven worth investing in. The proposed $300 million allocated annually should go a long way in funding restoration projects which will benefit the Great Lakes and consequently the Americans that depend on them.
One of the goals of the Restoration Initiative Act is to clean up toxic pollution in and around the Great Lakes. Some of these toxic hotspots are a result of dumping contaminants directly into the water, while others are created by polluted runoff from populated areas surrounding the lakes. U.S. Representative Candice Miller (Rep.-Michigan) admits that “unfortunately, we have not been the best stewards of these magnificent lakes, and we owe it to future generations to help assure they are preserved and protected.”
Another problem that needs to be addressed is the amount of invasive species in the Great Lakes ecosystem. This includes an estimated twenty-five invasive fish species such as the Asian carp, sea lamprey and alewife that compete with native species for food and habitat, as well as invasive aquatic plants like the common reed and purple loosestrife which displace native plant populations and hinder boating and swimming. These non-native populations are extremely difficult to control once established, especially in a massive body of water like Lake Superior.
Other projects include cleaning up shorelines and dredging shallow areas. Like the fight against invasive species, these projects take a lot of time and money in order to be fully realized.
Real-time water quality monitoring systems are crucial in ensuring that the 30 million Americans living around the Great Lakes continue to have plenty of clean drinking water. This is relevant because last year drinking water systems in Toledo were shut down temporarily because of a large algae bloom in Lake Erie. A portion of the funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would support projects to install these monitoring systems on all five of the lakes and this would benefit future generations of Americans.
By Dac Collins
Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – Flickr License