The Great Lakes include 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and host diverse communities of aquatic and terrestrial life. Launched in 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was created to accelerate efforts to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. The GLRI seeks to replace earlier piecemeal approaches to ecosystem restoration with a single comprehensive program. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leads and administers the restoration initiative and partners with multiple federal agencies to carry out restoration projects.
Between 2010 – 2022 Congress has appropriated $4.17 billion to support the program’s initiatives throughout the Great Lakes region. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provided an additional $1 billion. As stakeholders in a healthy, productive ecosystem, Great Lakes ports support the GLRI program and urge Congress to approve no less than $425 million in the EPA’s FY2024 budget – the full, authorized amount.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative replaces scores of earlier programs with a single, coordinated effort to proactively rehabilitate the Great Lakes. Both past and current practices have left these inland seas with a legacy of contamination, habitat loss and a compromised ecosystem. Although launched by President Obama in 2009, GLRI is a bi-partisan initiative built on a foundation of earlier work. A 2004 executive order by President Bush established a Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to coordinate federal agency actions related to Great Lakes restoration. In 2005, Great Lakes stakeholders (including AGLPA) worked to develop the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, which outlines eight priority areas for restoration action.
President Obama proposed the creation of GLRI in his first budget and included $475 million for its first year (FY2010). Lead by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interagency Task Force worked with stakeholders to develop a 5-year action plan to guide GLRI work between 2010-14. The Great Lakes Restoration Action Plan identifies five areas of focus: 1) toxic substances and areas of concern; 2) invasive species; 3) nearshore health & non-point source pollution; 4) habitat and wildlife protection/restoration; and 5) education, monitoring and measuring/evaluating progress. In September, 2014, a second five-year plan was announced by EPA for action between 2015-19. In October, 2019 the EPA published Action Plan III, which outline initiatives for 2020-24.
Since GLRI was launched, more than 5300 individual projects have been implemented across the Great Lakes region in these five focus areas. Projects have been carried out by federal agencies in partnership with states, counties, municipalities, universities, and other stakeholders. These projects include several of particular interest to the maritime industry. For example, GLRI funding supports ongoing work at the Great Waters Research Collaborative (GWRC), a ballast water treatment technology test center at the University of Wisconsin/Superior. GWRC scientists and engineers are working to help accelerate the deployment of effective ballast water treatment technology for commercial vessels. These technologies will help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species via ships’ ballast water. GLRI funds have also being used to implement beneficial reuse projects for dredge material disposal, such as the Cat Island project in Green Bay. Of critical importance, GLRI funding is being used to help control migration of non-native Asian Carp in the Illinois River and prevent their spread to Lake Michigan.