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Greater investments are needed to protect the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Protection Act Alliance calls on the governments of Canada and the United States to ensure federal funding for freshwater protection and restoration of the Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin recognizes the region’s importance.

The Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin is one of the world’s largest sources of surface freshwater, and provides drinking water to more than 45 million Canadians and Americans. It’s also home to more than 260 species of fish and boasts a $6 trillion economy. But recent federal budgets - both Canada’s and the United States’ - gloss over the ecosystem’s importance.

In Canada’s recently released federal budget, there are commitments to national freshwater and biodiversity initiatives, including up to $70.5 million over 5 years for freshwater protection and $43.8 million over 5 years for aquatic invasive species programs. This breaks down to roughly $22.9 million per year for the entire country’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. We need more detail about how these proposed commitments will be divided up across Canadian watersheds, focused on specific freshwater threats, and distributed over time. Meanwhile, Ontario’s investments in the Great Lakes are insufficient. The province’s budget for Great Lakes protection is only about $15 million (0.01 percent of the total budget) per year. We appreciate Ontario’s​ and Canada’s longstanding funding of Great Lakes programs; these are critical investments for protection of the Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin. More needs to be done and we strongly urge both jurisdictions to dramatically increase funding consistent with the region’s importance.

In the U.S., the President’s budget proposes to eliminate $300 million per year in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which has been widely praised as a non-partisan success. Since 2010, the GLRI has successfully delisted three Areas of Concern, remediated over 3.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, protected or restored more than 150,000 acres of wetland and coastal habitat, and funded nearly 50 per cent of the control measures keeping Asian carp out of the lakes. And that’s not all. The GLRI has been instrumental in hundreds of programs and projects that have improved the health of the Great Lakes.

Further, the U.S. proposes to cut core funding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Reducing the EPA's budget by almost a third could have drastic implications for staff capacity in their ability to enforce critical rules, implement action plans, and administer important programs such as the GLRI. The NOAA cuts could mean uncertainty for the continuation of important programs such as the Lake Erie algae bloom forecasts. Cuts that impact core capacity have long term implications, as we have seen on the Canadian side when cuts have been made to our provincial and federal government agencies.

Given the importance of a healthy Great Lakes - St Lawrence River Basin bi-nationally, we need greater investment from both the Canadian and U.S. governments in order to sustain the social, environmental, and economic benefits that this crucial ecosystem provides us.