There has been no shortage of talk about saving the Great Lakes. Now there is a clear, ambitious plan.
The Obama administration last week took the wraps off the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an action plan covering fiscal years 2010 through 2014. The initiative builds on the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy devised by a coalition of private-sector stakeholders and government officials.
The new action plan targets five priority areas. These include combating invasive species, such as Asian carp, and cleaning up toxic waste-millions of pounds of it from electronic devices, discarded medicines and household hazardous materials.
In addition, the plan focuses on protecting high-priority watersheds and reducing runoff; restoring wetlands and other habitats; and implementing a variety of accountability measures, learning initiatives, outreach efforts and strategic partnerships.
The action blueprint was warmly received by governors from the Great Lakes states, as well as some Canadian observers, who noted that their federal government would do well to follow the U.S. example.
At the same time, there have been voices of concern in this country about the administration’s funding commitment. The initiative, as outlined last fall, calls for spending some $2.2 billion over five years, starting with $475 million in 2010. But the president’s funding request this year was reduced to $300 million.
The reduction no doubt reflects budget pressures in Washington, but a strong case can be made for allocating the full amount.
Roughly 30 million Americans depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water; the lakes also produce billions of dollars in economic benefits derived from fishing, boating and other recreational activities, and tourism.
As we’ve noted before, restoration of the Great Lakes does not pit quality of life against economic development. Rather, they are dual benefits to be drawn from protecting this natural asset.
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