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Issues Of The Environment: Past And Future Impacts Of The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Apr 10, 2019

Great Lakes Commission policy director Matt Doss
Credit Great Lakes Commission / glc.org

President Donald Trump said he wanted to cut 90% from a proposed $300-million dollar budget proposal to continue funding the Great Lakes Resoration Initiative (GLRI).  He then reversed the decision.   Why is that important?  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair gets the answers from Matt Doss, policy director of the Great Lakes Commission. 


Overview

  • On Thursday, March 28, 2019, President Donald Trump pledged during a campaign stop in Grand Rapids to fully fund a program to clean up the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  Only a few weeks ago, his administration had signaled that they might cut the funding by 90 percent.  This promise has been met with skepticism by Democrats and optimism by the GOP.
  • A team led by the Great Lakes Commission and the Council of Great Lakes Industries coordinated a study late last year that showed that for every dollar spent on the GLRI will produce at least $3.35 of additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region.
  • GLRI launched in 2010, and Congress appropriated over $2.5 billion from 2010 through 2017 to fund more than 3,600 projects that have dramatically improved environmental conditions around the region.  While the GLRI was intended to accelerate environmental restoration of the Great Lakes and was not intended to stimulate the economy, the study shows that it created or supported thousands of jobs — approximately the same number of jobs per dollar of investment that would be created by a conventional federal stimulus program designed to boost job growth. 
  • Research was led by the University of Michigan’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics and reviewed by a panel of economists and other experts from outside the Great Lakes region.  Jennifer Read, director, University of Michigan’s Water Center - “We have long suspected that the health of the Great Lakes is an important driver of our regional economy, but it is fantastic to now have a clear and quantitative demonstration of that connection.  Through this study we can see that restoring Great Lakes ecosystems can boost recreation and tourism, help attract new people and businesses, and revitalize local economies.” 

Study: Each dollar spent on the GLRI will produce at least $3.35

Ann Arbor, Mich. – A new report released [Sept. 2018] shows that every federal dollar spent on Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) projects from the program’s launch in 2010 through 2016 will produce an additional $3.35 of additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region through 2036.  The study – which estimates only some of the GLRI benefits – shows that in certain communities, the longer-term impact will be even greater: every dollar spent in Buffalo and Detroit, for example, will produce more than $4 of additional economic activity.

GLRI launched in 2010 and Congress appropriated over $2.5 billion from 2010 through 2017 to fund more than 3,600 projects that have dramatically improved environmental conditions around the region.  While the GLRI was intended to accelerate environmental restoration of the Great Lakes and was not intended to stimulate the economy, the study shows that it created or supported thousands of jobs — approximately the same number of jobs per dollar of investment that would be created by a conventional federal stimulus program designed to boost job growth.

The study also shows that GLRI has strengthened tourism in the Great Lakes region.  Every federal dollar of GLRI project spending from 2010 through 2016 will generate $1.62 in economic activity in tourism-related industries through 2036.  Additionally, the study found that GLRI increased the value that residents place on living in coastal areas: every project dollar spent between 2010 and 2016 produced quality of life improvements worth $1.08 to residents as measured in housing values, leading to an overall increase of $900 million in home values in Great Lakes coastal communities.

Eight case studies illustrate how the regional impact of the GLRI translated into local improvements in specific Great Lakes communities.  The case studies showed that GLRI leads to significant new real estate and commercial development, particularly in waterfront areas; a resurgence in traditional water-based recreation and the emergence of a new type of tourism focused on kayaking, kitesurfing, and paddle-boarding; improved quality of life, as indicated by willingness to pay more for housing in coastal areas; and increases in the number of young people who are choosing to stay in or relocate to Great Lakes communities.

Research was led by the University of Michigan’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics and reviewed by a panel of economists and other experts from outside the Great Lakes region.  The case studies were developed by the Issue Media Group and a panel of Great Lakes stakeholders provided guidance on the scope of the project and helped articulate the outcomes.  A team led by the Great Lakes Commission and the Council of Great Lakes Industries coordinated the study.  The team included the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, and the University of Michigan’s Water Center. Funding for the study was provided by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Wege Foundation, the Fund for Lake Michigan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Office of the Great Lakes, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of the Great Lakes. 

From Matt Doss: Reasons to Fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) 

The Great Lakes constitute 90% of America’s fresh surface water.  

More than 4,000 restoration projects across almost 300,000 square miles have been implemented and cleaned up 11 toxic hotspots (“Areas of Concern”).

The GLRI is cleaning up 19 additional Areas of Concern (AOCs) and upcoming cleanup actions depend on continued funding. In 2020 an estimated $88 million is needed for ten contaminated sediment cleanups in five states; those federal funds will leverage nearly $60 million from non-federal partners.

Background on the Areas of Concern

  • Heavily degraded “problem areas” identified by the states and provinces
  • Based on 14 Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs)
  • 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement formally established the AOC program with 43 AOCs
  • 26 U.S. AOCs, 12 Canadian AOCs, and 5 binational AOCs; one or more AOC in each Great Lakes state
  • AOC program is administered by U.S. EPA in partnership with state environmental agencies and local public advisory committees

Beneficial Use Impairments - criteria

  • Restrictions on Fish and Wildlife Consumption
  • Tainting of Fish and Wildlife Flavor
  • Degraded Fish and Wildlife Populations
  • Fish Tumors or Other Deformities
  • Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproductive Problems
  • Degradation of Benthos
  • Restrictions on Dredging Activities
  • Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae
  • Restrictions on Drinking Water Consumption or Taste and Odor Problems
  • Beach Closings
  • Degradation of Aesthetics
  • Added Costs to Agriculture or Industry
  • Degradation of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Populations
  • Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat

{The GLRI is particularly important for cleaning up Areas of Concern.  Nearly a third of the GLRI funding has been poured into these AOCs ($800 million over the life of the program!).  Five of the 15 AOCs in Michigan are concentrated on the shores of Lake Erie, adjacent to our listening area and part of our watershed. Past progress on these AOCs has directly cleaned up the River Raisin in 2019, and projected projects are aimed at other rivers that are ultimately connected to our local watershed.}

Progress in the AOCs

  • Approximately $800 million spent in AOCs (approx. 1/3 of GLRI funding)
  • 4 AOCs delisted
  • 8 AOCs with management actions completed
  • 85 BUIs removed (out of 255 total)
  • Approximately 3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments remediated under the Great Lakes Legacy Act
  • $330 million leveraged from non-federal partners for sediment cleanups

The GLRI is preventing polluted runoff that causes toxic algae and threatens drinking water and tourism; the GLRI has prevented nearly 800,000 pounds of phosphorous from polluting the Great Lakes and contributing to harmful algal blooms.

The GLRI sustains the most effective line of defense against Asian carp and other invasive species by closing pathways for the introduction and spread of carp and developing control technologies. Nearly eight million pounds of Asian carp have been removed from the Illinois River and carp populations have been reduced by 93% in the upstream areas closest to the Great Lakes.

The GLRI is creating jobs and stimulating economic development. A recent economic study found that the GLRI will have a long-term impact on our regional economy: every dollar invested under the GLRI is projected to generate more than three dollars in additional economic activity over the next two decades.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu