Funding for the Great Lakes is not unlike its levels.
One year it’s down. One year it’s up. One year, it’s zeroed out, and the next it’s stable. And every year, we talk about it because our lakes are precious and entrusted to our safekeeping.
This year a tsunami of dreck threatened to dilute our “something to talk about” by timing alone. On Jan. 5 President Donald Trump signed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act into law. On Jan. 6 the Capitol Building was attacked by rioters wanting to overturn Presidential election results.
Politically, we navigate stormy waters in an unstable boat. But, thankfully on the Great Lakes, the waters are receding and the GRLI funding package will be a stabilizing force.
The bill guarantees at least five more years of federal funding earmarked for the benefit of the Great Lakes. Projects — 5,500 including nearly 900 projects in Michigan — have kept invasive Asian carp and other species out of the Great Lakes, combated harmful algal blooms, restored coastal habitats and prevented future pollution since 2010.
For example, in 2017 The Nature Conservancy got $550,070 to help restore native fish populations in Grand Traverse Bay. The Grand Traverse Conservation District got $539,605 to battle invasive plants in Lake Michigan Dunes, Misty Acres Preserve, Trapp Farm, Timbers Recreation Area, and Reffitt Nature Preserve. The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay got $499,989 to construct a wetland floodplain area adjacent to the 14th Street stormwater outfall to improve water quality in Kids Creek.
Annual GRLI funding has been used as a bargaining chip in the past; after an initial zero-out in 2017, funding came back, albeit somewhat shallower than before.
But the Jan. 5 act gives it both stability and promise.
It will jump from $300 million to $375 million in the next fiscal year, and rise by $25 million per year until it reaches $475 million in 2026.
This, with the news that our high lake levels are receding, is a bright spot in a cloudy week. For the next five years, we won’t have to play the annual game of impressing on our leaders how important the lakes are, not only to us, but the country and planet. We can focus our energy into protecting and enjoying them.