Great Lakes Restoration Could Cost $20 Billion

DULUTH, Minnesota, July 11, 2005 (ENS) - A new collaboration among federal, state, city, tribal and nongovernmental partners has issued an overarching draft strategy to restore and protect the Great Lakes ecosystem. While government officials declined to put an overall price tag on the strategy, environmental groups estimate it would cost $20 billion over five years.

More comprehensive than previous attempts to purify and enhance the five lakes that contain one-fifth of the world's fresh water supply, the strategy is now open for public comment.

In Duluth on Thursday, senior representatives of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) issued the draft strategy, the result of six months of work on the part of more than 1,500 people from government and nongovernmental organizations.

Teams worked on eight critical environmental priorities - aquatic invasive species, habitat conservation and species management, near-shore waters and coastal areas, areas of concern, non-point sources, toxic pollutants, a sound information base, and representative indicators and sustainability.


Lake Erie Islands State Park. Due to a water quality concern, the cabins at South Bass Island State Park are not available for rental at this time. (Photo courtesy Ohio DNR)
The reports of these teams and their recommendations for action form the basis for the draft action plan. The teams kept the long term restoration of the Great Lakes in mind as they mapped the steps that must be taken over the next five years to achieve results.

At this early stage, the draft has not been officially endorsed by any members of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. First the public will have its say. Following a 60 day public comment period, including five town hall style meetings, the collaboration's leadership will consider the draft recommendations and public comments as they develop a final strategy for approval by the collaboration membership.

The draft document provides the full range of recommendations, options, and ideas generated by the eight strategy teams. The final strategy - scheduled for release in Chicago on December 12 - will acknowledge the funding climate in which implementation is likely to occur. Public input is expected to help clarify priority actions for funding.

Implementation will proceed promptly after the plan is released, the organizers said." Because we share the Great Lakes with Canada, we must do everything possible to make sure that our plans and actions are compatible and synchronized with their efforts," they said Thursday.

In December 2004, President George W. Bush signed an Executive Order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lead a regional collaboration of national significance for the Great Lakes.

"The unique nature of these majestic lakes and their role in the cultural, economic and environmental well-being of our nation requires us to take bold action in their defense," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. "Working separately, environmental progress is limited. This collaborative strategy, bringing together resources and ideas from our partners, is the next step in ensuring the Great Lakes remain an international treasure - forever open to trade and tourism, and providing a healthy ecosystem for its surrounding communities."


Sailing along Lake Michigan shoreline at Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photo courtesy Lake Michigan Federation)
"If it is funded, the Collaboration’s draft plan will make critical progress toward our goal of restoring balance to the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office, and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition. "Cleaning up raw sewage and toxic hotspots, and restoring habitat is not cheap, but there’s no alternative: Our economy, our environment, and our way of life depend on it.”

Legislation pending in Congress calls for $4 billion to $6 billion to restore the Great Lakes.

"This is the summer of the Great Lakes - an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that they are protected and restored for our children and grandchildren," said Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

"Most importantly, we recognize that immediate and aggressive action is needed. Hundreds have taken part in this collaboration and we invite the public to help us identify the steps that must be taken now and in coming years," Doyle said.

"Many Great Lakes Tribal Nations have been participating in the collaboration in recognition of their sacred duties and responsibilities to the waters of the Great Lakes," said Tribal Chairman Ettawageshik. "We look forward to hearing from the public about how the final strategy can help to protect the Creator's gifts of pure water and sustainable ecosystems that provide the foundation for the health and welfare of all people in the Great Lakes basin."

Each of the eight strategy areas will require action and funding, and the strategy to stop the introduction of more aquatic invasive species also will require federal legislation.

  1. Immediate action to stop the introduction of more aquatic invasive species (AIS) can prevent significant future ecological and economic damage to the Great Lakes.

    Zebra mussels, native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia, were transported to the Great Lakes in ballast water from a transoceanic vessel. Discovered in 1988, they have now spread to all of the Great Lakes and waterways in many states, as well as Ontario and Quebec. (Photo courtesy Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences)
    The steps needed include: To accomplish these objectives, the strategy document estimates a total cost of $865 million over the five year period.

  2. The plants and animals of the Great Lakes need habitat in order to survive in the future. More than half of the region’s original wetlands have been lost. Approximately 40 percent of the forest lands remain while only small remnants remain of other habitat types such as savannah or prairies.

    These changes have resulted in numerous plant and animal extirpations throughout the Great Lakes basin, the Collaboration reports. In Minnesota nine animal species have been lost, while in Ohio 56 animal species are gone. In Indiana, 45 animal species are lost, in Ohio 36 animal species are considered extirpated, while in Wisconsin 18 animal species are gone. At least 280 plant species across the six states no longer exist.

    The recommendations focus on: The strategy recommends habitat conservation and species management funding should be increased by between $177 million and $288.7 million per year, to a maximum of up to $1.4 billion over five years.

  3. The near shore waters and the coastal areas are the region’s largest source of drinking water and experience a variety of recreational activities. By 2020 or sooner where possible, the goal is to eliminate inputs of untreated or inadequately treated human and industrial waste to Great Lakes basin waters from municipal wastewater treatment systems.

    Bethlehem Steel, at Porter, Indiana on Lake Michigan adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
    To minimize the risk to human health resulting from contact with near shore waters, actions needed include: In order to solve these problems, full funding of the state revolving funds for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure is needed, along with a new grant program. The price tag on this section of the strategy alone is $13.75 billion over five years.

  4. The United States identified the 31 most contaminated locations on the Great Lakes under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada more than 15 years ago. None of them have been restored to date. To remedy this situation, a dramatic acceleration of the cleanup process at these areas of concern (AOC) is needed. The actions recommended are:
  5. Nonpoint sources of pollution contribute significantly to problems in the Areas of Concern, as well as to other locations in the Great Lakes, including the open waters. Actions to address these problems include: The price tag on this section of the strategy is $1.12 billion over five years.

  6. Toxic pollutants continue to stress the Great Lakes ecosystem, posing threats to human and wildlife health. Persistent toxic substances such as mercury and PCBs remain present in fish at levels that warrant advisories and restrict consumption throughout the Basin.


    Toxic sediment from a wood mill enters Keene Creek that flows into Lake Superior near Duluth, Minnesota. (Photo by Pat Collins courtesy Minnesota DNR)
    To address this ongoing problem, actions are needed to:
  7. With a resource as large and complex as the Great Lakes ecosystem, it is essential to have a sound information base and representative indicators to understand what is happening in the system. This information must then be communicated to the public, to decision makers, and all others involved. To improve over the current situation, the following actions are needed:
  8. Ensuring the long term sustainability of the Great Lakes resource will require a number of significant changes in the way we approach such things as land use, agriculture and forestry, transportation, industrial activity, and many others. To start this process, we need to:
Better coordinated use of existing resources will allow for some recommendations to move forward, the Collaboration says. Others will require modest additional funding, and some will be impossible to implement absent substantial new expenditures on the part of the various Collaboration partners.

The release of this draft strategy is not a commitment of additional financing on the part of any member of the Collaboration, the partners were careful to say.

The Collaboration partners hope that public comment will provide a context within which priorities can be established.

"This plan is a good first step toward comprehensive restoration of the Great Lakes,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition. "But it is only one step, and it will go nowhere unless it leads to state and federal funding, and inspires better government policies that enable Americans to once again safely enjoy our Great Lakes.”

To read the document, visit:

To comment on the draft strategy, visit: