Congress is in the process of authorizing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a bipartisan effort to protect the Great Lakes and its waterways.

Support comes from both sides of the aisle, including 12 Senators and 42 U.S. Representatives. 11 of the Congressional members are from Michigan. The public-private program, started in 2010, funds a variety of conservation programs throughout the Great Lakes states. The GLRI has provided more than $2.5 to protect the Great Lakes and its waterways from threats like invasive species and agriculture runoff, as well as restoring coastline and cleanup of environmentally damaged areas of concern.

Other areas where the GLRI has benefitted:

  • Tripled the cleanup and delisting of areas with extreme degradation, including White Lake in West Michgan and Deer Lake in the Upper Peninsula
  • Increased remediation of environmental and public health impairments nearly seven-fold
  • Doubled farmland acres under nutrient conservation
  • Prevented nearly 800,000 pounds of phosphorus from making its way into the Great Lakes via runoff, reducing the risk of harmful algae blooms
  • Facilitated the removal of about 8 million pounds of Asian carp from the Illinois River
  • Restored habitat connectivity to more than 5,250 miles of river
(photo by Michael Percha)

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke on the GLRI at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County Friday, August 23 and on Congress’ efforts to increase the funding. The initiative funded thousands of projects around the Great Lakes at about $300 million per year and was renewed on a yearly basis.  Stabenow says the GLRI Act of 2019 would fund the program for five years, rising incrementally per year from $300 million to $475 million.

Shiawassee refuge manager Pamela Repp says some of that funding is helping convert about 900 acres of local farmland into wetlands. She says the wetlands are essential to the health of the ecosystem and not just as a wildlife habitat.

“Running water through a wetland, especially a large, thousand acre wetland, it cleans the water, it removes nutrients. So downstream of us, into the Shiawassee River, Saginaw River, Lake Huron, [they are] improved as a result of these wetland enhancements.”

The Shiawassee refuge is a meeting point for four Michigan rivers: the Cass, Flint, Shiawassee and Tittabawassee, all flowing into the Saginaw River and out into the Saginaw Bay.