Conservation Minnesota

The restoration of the great lakes

When budget proposals were released recently, we took a look to see if there were any cuts to environmental programs. In the President’s proposed budget, the Great Lakes restoration projects took a hit. We signed on to a letter the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition recently sent to the chairman and ranking member in the House Committee on Appropriations.

April 6, 2017

The Honorable Harold Rogers
House Committee on Appropriations
H-305 Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Nita Lowey
Ranking Member
House Committee on Appropriations
1016 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Lowey:

On behalf of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, we write to ask that you assure the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bills provide funding for Great Lakes restoration priorities.  We are grateful for the much-needed support the region has received. We hope you are as proud as we are about the on-the-ground results because of these investments in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  However, the Great Lakes still face many urgent problems, which is why we are concerned with the President’s proposed budget.  The problems we face will only get worse and the price we pay will be much higher if the federal partnership with the region is scaled back.

First, we ask you to support $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  Restoration efforts are improving the lives of millions of people and work is underway or completed on over 3,400 restoration projects throughout the region that are benefitting communities.  These projects are cleaning up streams that provide drinking water for millions of homes and thousands of industries. Restoration work is improving infrastructure important for future economic growth in the eight-state region.  These projects are delivering results, including:

Three Areas of Concern – Presque Isle, Pa.; Deer Lake, Mich.; and White Lake, Mich. – have been delisted since the GLRI began. The management actions necessary to delist four additional AOCs have also been completed.  In the previous two decades before the GLRI, only one AOC had been cleaned up.

Fifty beneficial use impairments (BUIs) at 18 AOCs were addressed in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin under the GLRI, more than tripling the total number of BUIs removed in the preceding 22 years. More BUIs have been removed in the last seven years since the GLRI began than between 1987 and 2009.

Combined with other funding, farmers implemented conservation action on more than one million acres of rural lands in order to reduce erosion and farm runoff that feeds algal blooms. This supplemental funding helped double farmland under conservation in Western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, and Green Bay.

More than 513 dams and barriers were removed, allowing fish to access more than 3,800 miles of river.

Second, we urge you to at least double the funding for both the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.  The region’s water infrastructure needs to be repaired or replaced.  EPA estimates that nearly $80 billion is needed in the Great Lakes region alone to replace old sewer pipes and wastewater plants.  Over $100 billion is needed to fix drinking water problems that threaten the public’s safety.  The problem in urban water systems and in economically disadvantaged communities is particularly acute. Sewer overflows pour millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Great Lakes and lead drinking water pipes threaten the health of communities. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) are two key sources of funds to solve these problems.  Communities depend on them for low-interest loans to implement costly, but critical wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects.

Third, the threat of Asian carp is real and persistent.  To keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes we ask Congress to fully fund all actions being undertaken as part of the FY 2017 Asian Carp Action Plan, which includes at least $14.6 million for the Army Corps, $5.3 million for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, $5.2 million for the U.S. Geologic Survey, among other federal needs. Any Asian carp protective measure must 1) lead to a long-term solution that prevents the inter-basin movement of aquatic invasive species between both the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, 2) maintain or enhance water quality, recreation, and flood protection, and 3) enable the efficient movement of goods in the region.  In addition, we hope the Committee will demand the Army Corps of Engineers release its study focusing on Brandon Road lock and dam, which was originally scheduled to be released on February 28.  We need the design for a new engineered channel and control technologies at this site so our region can move forward quickly with constructing the next line of defense against the spread of invasive species—and ultimately permanent separation of the lakes from the Mississippi River.

Fourth, urban and agricultural runoff continues to contribute to the problems facing the Great Lakes.  Experts say harmful new algal blooms are fueled by excessive amounts of phosphorus washing into the lakes from farms and urban areas.  Stronger storms driven by climate change contribute to the problem, as do invasive mussels.  New harmful algal blooms close beaches, kill fish, impact local drinking water supplies (like Toledo, Ohio, in 2014), and when water supplies are contaminated, the most vulnerable members of the community are the first to be impacted. Toxic algae also harms small, local businesses like charter boats.  Harmful algal blooms are spreading farther and faster and beginning earlier than ever before and we must take action to protect communities from this growing threat.

To help the region respond to these algal blooms, we ask that you provide continued strong support for Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Farm Bill conservation programs, in particular the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.  This program is well placed to fund targeted, discrete conservation practices that will improve soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat in regions such as the Great Lakes.  It sets aside conservation funding to encourage innovative partnerships between watershed groups and farmers.  As partners, these organizations and farmers work together to further the conservation and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources on a regional or watershed scale.  It also provides for accountability by linking the projects to local efforts or other regional initiatives (like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative).

Support for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will not be enough to reduce algae-feeding phosphorus in the region’s waterways.  If we are to achieve 40 percent nutrient reductions in Western Lake Erie (as agreed to by the region’s governors and the U.S. and Canadian governments) we will need a much more coordinated response.  We ask that Congress provide all Farm Bill conservation programs with funding at authorized levels.

Lastly, our region will fall short of our restoration goals if the federal agencies that are vital partners in our restoration efforts have their budgets cut.  U.S. EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, National Park Service, and NRCS all provide critical administrative and programmatic support that helps us ensure the success of both the GLRI and other restoration activities in the region.  These departments and agencies are critical partners with Great Lakes states, cities, industries, Tribes, and non-governmental organizations. Cutting EPA by 31 percent, USDA by 21 percent, and the Department of the Interior by 12 percent as proposed by the administration is unacceptable.  For example, cutting categorical grants from EPA to states by 45 percent eliminate hundreds of federally-funded positions in state agencies that have the delegated responsibility to enforce critical laws like the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Also, eliminating funding for programs like Sea Grant only harms the health and resilience of our coastal communities and makes it extremely difficult to make progress on critical clean-up efforts in places like western Lake Erie where Ohio Sea Grant serves as a key part of the work to reduce harmful algal blooms. We urge you to reject these massive cuts to non-defense discretionary spending.

Investments in Great Lakes restoration create short-term jobs and lead to long-term economic benefits for the Great Lakes states and the country.  A Brookings Institution report shows that every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration generates at least $2 in return, making Great Lakes restoration one of the best investments in the federal budget.  More recent research from Grand Valley State University suggests that the return on investment for certain projects may be closer to 6-to-1.  The University of Michigan has also demonstrated that over 1.5 million jobs are dependent on clean and healthy Great Lakes, accounting for more than $60 billion in wages annually.  We have also seen jobs being created by our nation’s efforts to clean up the Great Lakes and restore fish and wildlife habitat.  These jobs include wetland scientists, electricians, engineers, landscape architects, plumbers, truck drivers and many others.

However, there is still much work that needs to be done.  Aging sewers, invasive species, and toxic pollutants are just a few of the pervasive threats that impact the region, endangering human and wildlife health, lowering property values, and hurting the region’s economy.  Cutting funding will slow restoration efforts, allowing problems to get worse and making them more expensive to solve.  Ultimately, cutting spending on the Great Lakes won’t save money—it will cost the nation more.  As the source of drinking water for 30 million people, the nation cannot afford to stop protecting and restoring the Great Lakes.

Now is not the time to scale back our nation’s commitment to restore the Great Lakes environment and economy.  Progress is being made.  For the economy and the environment, please make sure that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills provide at least $300 million for the GLRI; water infrastructure funding is doubled for the Clean Water SRF and the Drinking Water SRF; the Asian carp action plan is fully funded; there are resources for the RCPP and all Farm Bill conservation programs at authorized levels; and the cuts to non-defense discretionary programs are rejected.

If you have questions regarding this request, please do not hesitate to have your staff contact our coalition’s policy director, Chad Lord, at 202-454-3385 or


Katie Rousseau
Director, Clean Water Programs, Great Lakes
American Rivers

Shirley Roberts
Executive Director

Suzi Zierten
Executive Director
Caledonia Conservancy

Clark Bullard
Committee on the Middle Fork Vermilion River

Nels Paulsen
Policy Manager
Conservation Minnesota

Michele Arquette-Palermo
Head of the Freshwater Forum
Cranbrook Institute of Science

William Schleizer
Delta Institute

Tom Clay
Executive Director
Door County Land Trust

Jill Ryan
Executive Director
Freshwater Future

Cathy Pabich
Steering Committee Coordinator
Friends of Crescent Beach

Mike Carlson
Executive Director
Gathering Waters: Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts

June Summers
Genesee Valley Audubon Society

Jonathan Jarosz
Executive Director
Heart of the Lakes

Brad Jensen
Executive Director
Huron Pines

Darwin Adams
Illinois Council of Trout Unlimited

Jared Mott
Conservation Director
Izaak Walton League of America

John Crampton
Minnesota Division Izaak Walton League of America

Rick Graham
Izaak Walton League of America – National Great Lakes Committee

Jim Kettler
Executive Director
Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership

Lisa Wozniak
Executive Director
Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Kimberlee Wright
Executive Director
Midwest Environmental Advocates

Cheryl Nenn
Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Lynn McClure
Midwest Director
National Parks Conservation Association

Mike Shriberg
Great Lakes Regional Executive Director
National Wildlife Federation

Melinda Hughes
Nature Abounds

Matt Misicka
Ohio Conservation Federation

Tom Stolp
Executive Director
Ozaukee Washington Land Trust

Natalie Johnson
Executive Director
Save the Dunes

Lee Willbanks
Riverkeeper / Executive Director
Save The River, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper

Kendra Kelling
Sheboygan River Basin Partnership

Linda Reid
Executive Director
Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc.

Lisa Brush
Executive Director
The Stewardship Network

Jennifer McKay
Policy Director
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Dendra J. Best
Executive Director
Wastewater Education 501(c)3

Christine Crissman
Executive Director
The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay

Joy Mulinex
Director of Government Relations
Western Reserve Land Conservancy

About Nels Paulsen

Nels Paulsen
A man of few words, but a great deal of action, Nels Paulsen serves as policy manager for Conservation Minnesota. In that role, he helps the organization set our public policy strategy and then works with the field and communications teams to see that they are successfully implemented. A passion for the great outdoors was a driving force behind the Wisconsin-native’s decision to become a lawyer, and ultimately join our team. 

Saying that his perfect day includes fishing, and that the three things he can’t live without are a fishing pole, his phone and cheese, it only seems natural that he describes his favorite place in the state as being Lake Saganaga. On May 13, 1979, the state record walleye was pulled from the waters just outside the cabin his family owns up there.

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