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EPA moves on Great Lakes clean-up

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

A satellite view of the Great Lakes

The Federal Government’s recent announcement of Phase II of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is important news. The Great Lakes are a national and international treasure. Outside of the polar ice caps they are the largest surface freshwater system on Earth. They are essential to the over 30 million people living in the Great Lakes Basin, providing water for consumption, transportation, power, recreation and a host of other uses.

Pollution in the Great Lakes gained national attention in June of 1969 when the Cuyahoga River, flowing through Cleveland, Ohio, on its way to Lake Erie, caught on fire. Eutrophication of Lake Erie was so advanced that the lake was declared “dead”.

This heightened sense of concern eventually led to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the Great Lakes Legacy Act in 2002 and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2010.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II was announced by Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a Chicago meeting of Great Lakes mayors. It is phase II and builds upon the four-year Great Lakes Restoration Initiative started in 2010 during President Obama’s first term.

Under this initiative $1.6 billion has already been spent on more than 2,100 restoration projects on the lakes’ American side. Phase II, which extends through 2019, is expected to cost roughly the same.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is being implemented through the Interagency Task Force and a Great Lakes Regional Working Group, which are led by the EPA. Overall 15 federal agencies and the eight Great Lakes states are involved in the initiative. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II aims to restore the Great Lakes and clean up 10 contaminated rivers and harbors.

It also includes steps to curb poisonous algae blooms that coat parts of three Great Lakes each summer and a new attempt to buffer the lakes against the effects of climate change. The plan will require, for example, that new wetlands include plants that can thrive in warmer temperatures.

John Burns & Dwight Beranek Senior Advisors

John Burns was formerly National Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers’ planning program for large-scale water resources projects. Dwight Beranek served as the Army Corps of Engineers’ Deputy Director of Military Programs.

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