Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is requesting that Congress increase federal funding toward the maintenance of the Great Lakes from $300 million annually to $475 million annually.
The fund, which is called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), helps maintain the quality and the safety of the lakes. It provides funding to 16 federal agencies to target the largest potential threats to ensure safe drinking water, safe fish and the elimination of invasive species.
Whitmer sent a letter to members of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which is considering the legislation. She said this initiative is vital for the Michigan economy and protecting the lakes.
“Our iconic five Great Lakes define Michigan,” Whitmer said in a news release. “These bodies of water hold 21 percent of the world’s freshwater, 84 percent of our country’s fresh surface water, and support over one million jobs. Our state government and local communities continue to realize the positive impacts of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative on our economy, our citizens, and our environment; our successes are clear evidence as to why the program should be reauthorized and fully funded.”
The Center Square reached out to the office of the chairwoman of the subcommittee, Rep. Grace Napolitano from California, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
In her letter, Whitmer said the fund helps pay for infrastructure related to the Great Lakes. It also provides funds to help local communities properly restore areas of concern harmed by environmental degradation. She said that tourism to the region is threatened if there are not enough funds toward improving the conditions of these parks, lakes and riverfronts.
According to Sean Hammond, the deputy policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, this investment into the lakes pays for itself.
“From the dollars spent on GLRI in 2010-2016, the Great Lakes as a whole will see an economic return of $3.35 for each GLRI dollar spent by 2036, with Detroit's return on investment being closer to $4 per dollar spent,” Hammond told The Center Square via email. “By investing in our precious Great Lakes, we are seeing economic activity from a program that was never even designed to stimulate it, and every dollar we spend will both restore our lakes and the economy."
Whitmer claimed that the fund has already achieved several goals that improved the Great Lakes. She said the funding helped remove two smaller lakes in the Upper Peninsula from the Great Lakes toxic hotspots list. It helped control the invasive grass carp. It also helped restore two reefs in the Great Lakes and restore native fish species.
Whitmer said tthe lakes are still facing problems with invasive species, toxic sediment and harmful algal blooms, which need to be addressed.
"The Governor's call to fully fund the GLRI is a step in the right direction for the environment and economy,” Hammond said. “There are still many areas of concern in the Great Lakes, which include chemical contamination, as well as areas where habitat restoration is desperately needed, and these dollars will go far in helping restore the Great Lakes.”
Initially, President Donald Trump suggested gutting the fund by 90 percent, but he reversed that position after receiving pushback from both parties.