The Obama administration unveiled a five-year $2.2 billion plan Sunday to clean up the Great Lakes, presenting goals to combat rising toxic contamination, pollution levels and exotic species invasion in the lakes.
The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, as well as 95 percent of the surface freshwater in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The lakes suffer from a variety of stresses, including toxic and nutrient pollution, invasive species and habitat degradation. These harmful factors pose a threat to the environment and public health, according to the EPA.
“We have an historic opportunity to restore and protect these waters,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement. “We’re committed to creating a new standard of care that will leave the Great Lakes better for the next generation.”
The plan contains a “zero tolerance policy” toward the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes such as the Asian carp, which has already infested the Mississippi River and may enter Lake Michigan.
“I think prevention of invasive species should be a top priority,” Dr. Phil Moy from the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute said. “Asian carp have been in the U.S. since the 1970s and have spread to the Mississippi River and more recently the Illinois River. It’s tough to stop their spread in a river that floods periodically; they’re just going to swim around whatever barrier you put up.”
Other problems addressed by the initiative include reducing pollution on beaches, cleaning up “toxic hotspots” and introducing accountability measures and partnerships with local agencies.
“In Wisconsin, there were 190 grant applications that were submitted for this funding that just became available, totaling about $105 million,” Jeff Skelding, director of Heal Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said. “What that tells you is there’s a huge need in the state of Wisconsin for this funding.”
Gov. Jim Doyle, who served as co-chair on the Council of Great Lakes Governors, also supported the plan.
“Wisconsin is defined by the Great Lakes, and one of our greatest responsibilities is to preserve this important freshwater resource for future generations,” Doyle said in a statement. “This action plan sets a strong course of action as we confront tremendous challenges to not only protect, but also restore the Great Lakes.”
Congress approved Obama’s request of $475 million for Great Lakes restoration in 2009, with the plan assuming the same amount of annual funding through 2014. However, the Great Lakes restoration budget approved this month for 2011 was only $300 million.
“The EPA says that the administrative burden of setting up these programs and moving that money out has been a little slower than they anticipated, and that’s their rationale for not giving out as much money this year,” Skeling said. “We don’t think that’s a good rationale. We can’t go backward; we have to keep going forward.”
Although in 2008 the Obama campaign pledged $5 billion dollars to improving the Great Lakes, the five-year initiative plans for funding to eventually total $2.2 billion.