The Great Lakes give each of us something we need.
For many, the Lake Michigan shoreline is a place to soak toes and make memories. For some, those deep turquoise waters form a deep foundation for a livelihood that has supported generations. For others, the Great Lakes provide solitude, reflection and refuge.
No matter what each of us receives from the lakes we love, we all owe something to them.
The least we can do is advocate for more stable and robust funding for the restoration efforts that will help ensure future generations have the same opportunity to appreciate our lakes.
We were encouraged by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s visit to Traverse City last week to tout her bipartisan legislation to stabilize and increase funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the next five years.
The proposal would restore annual federal cash flow into the program to the $475 million it originally received in 2010. That starting allocation was whittled down over the following years to $300 million. And multiple times during the past few years, President Donald Trump’s budget proposals have threatened to turn the federal cash faucet down to little more than a drip.
In each of those instances, the funding has been elevated by a tide of public and political outcry.
It’s a painful game of yo-yo none of us wants to relive each year. That’s why the senator’s proposal makes sense to us and many others.
It would inject a half decade of financial stability for the GLRI.
It’s no surprise Stabenow’s bill has gained support across the aisle and in both chambers of Congress. The health of the Great Lakes, at least for the past three decades, has been a cause that transcends political divisions.
Those five lakes are one of our nation’s greatest natural assets, and one of the largest concentrations of surface freshwater on Earth.
No, the lakes aren’t facing the same perils they endured prior the 1972 passage of the Clean Water Act — the Cuyahoga River isn’t likely to catch fire in 2019 as it did 50 years ago.
But the GLRI is about much more than stopping the flow of pollutants into our lakes — the Clean Water Act shouldered the lion’s share of that task.
Instead, the GLRI has funded hundreds of projects spread across the eight states that share Great Lakes shoreline. In northern Michigan the initiative has poured millions into everything from fish habitat restoration to invasive species monitoring and response programs.
It even helped foot the bill for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy to protect hundreds of acres of land situated on the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay.
Those projects and hundreds of others that dot the Great Lakes shoreline wouldn’t be possible without a robust, justified investment from federal coffers.
It’s also barely a table scrap from the federal fiscal feast we call a budget.
For a little perspective, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense spent about $58 million on bathroom paper products — toilet paper — according to reporting by Mother Jones. It’s easy to pick on the flush defense spending.
Heck, the Department of Defense likely could find enough to cover five years of GLRI in its couch cushions. The military spent $400 million last year on 1,200 auditors who tried to make heads or tails of our military finances. They failed.
Considering how our government chops up its more than $1 trillion in annual discretionary spending, less than $500 million annually to fund projects that will ensure the future health of our freshwater crown jewel seems like a relatively minuscule request.
The future of our Great Lakes are worth it.
Each of us takes something we need from our lakes, now it’s time to ensure we give back more than we take.