Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Great Lakes Successes – Part 2

By Cameron Davis

We’ve all made remarkable progress in the first five years of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), much of it visible. (see Opinion)

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

But behind every official success there are many other successes. Here a few of the unofficial successes that aren’t required for reporting, but are just as important:

  • The Initiative isn’t just about restoration. It’s about protection. Though the agencies don’t plan on removing “restoration” from the Initiative’s name, they understand we have to protect what’s left. Otherwise we’ll be spending much more to restore those things, too. For example, the Initiative has funded work to protect a small population of native coaster brook trout on Isle Royale for its own sake and so that it can be used to restore other populations around Lake Superior. “Thanks to GLRI funding, we are gaining critical information to help restoration efforts,” says Phyllis Green, superintendent at Isle Royale National Park, punctuating the notion that restoration and protection go hand in hand.
  • The Initiative continues to support overburdened and disproportionately impacted communities. For example, in its recent Requests for Applications under the Initiative, we provide extra points for applications that help advance environmental justice, as recommended by the agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board. This also helps EPA make good on its commitments under Plan EJ 2014. Check out the most recently-released Requests for Application (RFA). This means projects like the recently-completed Marquette Park Lagoon Stormwater project in Gary, Indiana, will help this important community. This means the agencies will keep cleaning up Areas of Concern, located largely around post-industrialized communities. This means we’ll keep reducing contaminant levels in fish, on which people depend for a food.
  • The Initiative is spending what comes in. This is one indicator that the demand for Initiative support remains high for attacking the most complex, long-standing threats to ecological health. In August, the Government Accountability Office published an examination of the Initiative and confirmed that in fiscal years 2010 through 2014, $1.68 billion of federal funds were made available and as of January 2015, we had allocated nearly all of the $1.68 billion.
  • As important, the Great Lakes community is cooperating in unparalleled ways. Chaired by our Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force of 11 federal departments works with states, tribes, municipalities, environmental groups, business, academia and just about any other interest that helps to restore the Lakes.
Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Though there’s still so much more progress needed—a century of abuse doesn’t disappear in five years—there’s little doubt that the first five years of the Initiative have made historic progress.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Great Lakes Successes Take Front & Center – Part 1

By Cameron Davis

It’s official. The first five years of the precedent-setting Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are history. And the Initiative has made history.

The Initiative is the largest Great Lakes-only investment in restoring and protecting the ecosystem in U.S. history. Recently, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force chaired by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent its progress report covering the first five years of the program to Congress and President Obama. Not all such reports inspire you to stand up and cheer, but this one should.

When President Obama proposed the Initiative and a bi-partisan Congress stepped up to fund it, the reason was clear. After more than a century of abuse, the integrity of the ecosystem that comprises some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—the supply for tens of millions of Americans—was unravelling fast. Decades of projects needed to bring back the health of the ecosystem and fulfill our international obligations with Canada had remained unfunded.

The Initiative changed all that. In the 25 years before the Initiative, only one of the then 31 Areas of Concern—waterfront communities with ecological or health impairments—had been taken off the cleanup list. In the first five years of the Initiative, the Presque Isle Area of Concern (AOC) in Pennsylvania has been taken off the list and cleanup has been completed in five more for ultimate delisting. Waukegan Harbor, once called the “world’s worst Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) mess,” is now a case study in persistent restoration action prevailing over persistent toxic pollution. In other AOCs, people who once thought cleanup would never be completed are now finding hope that it will be completed, and in their lifetime.

Asian carp. Asian carp, which can eat many times their body weight in plankton—one base of the food chain—could further undermine the Great Lakes ecosystem if they ever get in and become established. Within months after my appointment in the summer of 2009, a newer monitoring technique called “environmental DNA” was turning up genetic material from two kinds of Asian carp—silver and bighead—further upstream toward Lake Michigan than previously expected. We used the Initiative, whose first funding came through only months before, to provide emergency funding to plug holes in the permeable Chicago Area Waterway System. That, and tenacious work by representatives from agencies in the United States and Canada, has meant that in the past five years, these equally tenacious fish have not made it to Lake Michigan to become established.

With the shutdown of the Toledo metro area’s water supply from toxic cyanobacteria having taken place a year ago, the thick, almost florescent green growth is a reminder along too many coastlines that phosphorus doesn’t just fertilize crops on land. Too much of it washing downstream fertilizes dangerous algal growth in the water. Under the first five years of the Initiative, the amount of farmland acreage under conservation program management in three priority watersheds—the Maumee and Western Lake Erie Basin, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay watersheds—has increased by more than two thirds from previous levels.

That’s the official report. Check it out at http://glri.us.

But if you want to know some of the unofficial successes under the first five years of the Initiative, check out the next post for Part 2.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Re-connecting the Two Hearted River

A six-year effort has now been completed—using funds from EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other sources—to re-connect 35 miles of the Two Hearted River. As a result, this waterway is now one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the Great Lakes.

Though the Two Hearted is the only designated wilderness river in the state, that doesn’t mean the watershed hasn’t been beaten up, much of its bruising from sweeping white pine clear-cutting decades ago. More recently, stream crossings over culverts have collapsed, creating jams and resulting in sediment pouring into the waterway. The stream then fractured, with spawning beds smothering from siltation.

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Restoring Our Monuments

monumnetsOn a recent morning run around the National Mall, I took my first swing by the newly-restored Washington Monument since it had closed after an August 2011 earthquake. From afar and up close, patches show where the tower has been revitalized, resuscitated and renewed. The goal was never to restore it to its original look and condition. Nothing can ever be truly “restored” in the pure sense; I’ve sometimes wondered why the word even exists. But that was never the goal. The goal was to restore its functionality.

When President Obama first proposed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 that was the goal, too. These magnificent natural monuments—shared by Canada, eight states, dozens of tribes and thousands of municipalities, and home to some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—had been crumbling ecologically. Decades of habitat loss, alien species invasions, phosphorus runoff that causes mats of harmful algae, and industrial pollution had caused extreme wear such that we needed to accelerate progress in restoring their functionality.

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Taking Care of Our Coasts

Our coasts support jobs and everyday life for millions of people, and it’s no secret that we’re crowding them: more people are moving to them and more people are going on beach vacations. Coasts are also some of the most biologically rich places on Earth, including those on the Great Lakes, where fish go to reproduce and birds stop during migration.

It’s little wonder that so much demand for our coasts means that so little open coastline remains.

Here in the Great Lakes, that changed a little on September 16th when northeast Ohio’s Lake Metroparks added about 1.6 miles of coastline as a public space. When completed later this year, the park will encompass some 600 acres.

Lake Erie Bluffs-Kayaks-1

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Show Your Patriotism: Join the Beach Health Revolution This Independence Day

By Cameron Davis

Some of the most frequent questions I get are “do you swim at the beach?” or “are Great Lakes beaches clean?”

"Sage at Lee Street Beach"My inner beach enthusiast kicks in and I use the question as a chance to go into education mode. Sparing you the lecture here, my basic answer is: “Absolutely. Great Lakes beaches are some of the best in the world. Just pay attention to your local advisories.”

As we head into the Independence Day holiday and beyond, this summer we have even more reasons to hit the beach:

  • Check out/search for a Great Lakes volunteer beach health program to learn about why beaches close and how you can do your part to keep your community’s beach open, clean and fun.
  • The need for beach advisories and closures is decreasing. For example, the number of swimming bans and advisories in Chicago is at a five-year low.

Much of this work is the result of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative investments. Which means, they’re your programs.

And, if all of this isn’t enough to make you want to head to your neighborhood Great Lakes beach this 4th of July, think about this: though the water may still be warming up this time of year, unlike the east, west and south coasts, we don’t have salt to sting your eyes. Or stinging jellyfish. Or man-eating sharks.

Find out more about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at www.glri.us or by following me on Twitter @CameronDavisEPA.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Great Input Keeps the Great Lakes Great

By Cameron Davis

I am happy to share that on May 30, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who chairs the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force of 16 federal agencies coordinating to restore the Great Lakes, announced the formation of a committee to help make Great Lakes recovery even more effective.

Stakeholder commitment is the backbone of the very programs, like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which accelerate Great Lakes recovery. In announcing the new Great Lakes Advisory Board, Chair Jackson said, “it’s important that we hear from experts and stakeholders who can strengthen our efforts. By providing insight from those who know these waters best, the Great Lakes Advisory Board will ensure the continued success of the work already underway, and help move into the next phases of Great Lakes restoration and protection.”
The Task Force, through EPA, will request nominations from leaders soon. In the meantime, you can find out more about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative  or by following me on Twitter @CameronDavisEPA.

To view the Federal Register notice announcing EPA’s intent to establish the advisory board, see

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Big Year Is Coming To A Region Near You

By Cameron Davis

No, not the movie, or the best-selling book on which it’s based about one man’s pursuit of breaking the record for most birds seen in one year. Rather, 2012 is The Big Year for the Great Lakes region.

The U.S. and Canada completed the last round of formal negotiations to revise the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in Ottawa on January 20th. The revised agreement will incorporate recommendations from the public to tackle new threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, climate change impacts and habitat protection. Another benefit of the revitalized Agreement that probably won’t make headlines, but is as important as anything else:  it will be more user-friendly than previous versions. During the coming weeks the U.S. and Canada will be putting the finishing touches on language to revise the Agreement, which has long been considered a model of binational environmental cooperation. More details to come…

Then there’s the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. President Obama’s FY13 budget is due for release on Monday, February 13. Stay tuned to hear about FY13 GLRI funding. Administrator Jackson will be announcing the EPA’s budget, including the multi-agency GLRI numbers, upon the White House’s budget release. Follow me on Twitter for an up-to-the-minute up-date.

To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit, or follow me on Twitter (CameronDavisEPA).

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Results Energize Great Lakes Week

By Cameron Davis

If Earth Day should be celebrated every day, then Great Lakes Week should be every week. To the relief of the conference organizers, I’m not talking about a conference every week. However, I am talking about keeping alive the themes and energy that came from the first-ever Great Lakes Week.

This mega event was hosted in Detroit, October 11-14, through the innovative partnership of several organizations including the U.S. EPA, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, Environment Canada, the International Joint Commission, the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition, the Great Lakes Commission and Wayne State University. These organizations all work separately on Great Lakes Restoration, but Great Lakes Week gave us an opportunity to take action together, set priorities for the coming years, and, most importantly show results.

Speaker after speaker echoed that the region needs to keep its focus on results – that is, work that shows direct ecological benefit to the health of the Great Lakes. Administrator Lisa Jackson highlighted work under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that is already beginning to show results:

·    Some 140 acres of wetlands restored at the Shiawassee Flats Wetland restoration area in Michigan’s Saginaw River basin is bringing back fish and wildlife habitat, improving water quality and reducing flooding.

·    Swimming bans and advisories at Chicago’s beaches are at a five-year low; other beaches are seeing decreases in beach closures.

·    Cleaning up toxic hotspot Areas of Concern, with dramatic progress at White Lake and River Raisin in Michigan, the Sheboygan River in Wisconsin, and the Ashtabula River in Ohio.

Missed the conference and want to see highlights? Go to greatlakesnow.org to watch on-demand video footage of the week’s events. After all, it’s not that Great Lakes Weeks should be held every week, but we should make sure that we are achieving results every week of the year.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts at www.glri.us, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Great Lakes Restoration: Charting a Path Forward

By Peter Cassell

Growing up in New Jersey, I always had access to the beach, which every New Jersean knows as the Jersey Shore. Then I went off to college and didn’t get to enjoy ocean anymore. After accepting a job in EPA’s Chicago office, I got a pleasant surprise. There were beaches right near my apartment. Once again, I had access to the water. Lake Michigan does not have that same salty smell as the beaches of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, but going to the beach just has a way of reminding me of home.

When I was not off enjoying and exploring what my new home had to offer, I was hard at work trying to learn about a central piece of my new job: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I received crash courses on emerging chemicals, invasive species and other issues affecting the lakes and soon realized that I had a precious resource right in my own backyard. Until I came here, I didn’t really grasp that millions of people rely on the lakes for everything from drinking water to their livelihoods to recreation with friends and family. I learned that the Great Lakes are more than just places on a map, they are a way of life.

I fell in love with the Chicago waterfront and was ready to help make the lakes better so that everyone can enjoy them. When EPA’s Great Lakes Advisor Cameron Davis asked me to help organize Great Lakes Week, I jumped at the chance to do something tangible. We worked for months with nonprofits, businesses and Great Lakes organizations to put on the most wide-ranging Great Lakes summit in history. Hundreds of people will gather in Detroit from October 11-14 to be a part of this historic event. With speakers including Administrator Jackson and former Vice President Al Gore, the week is poised to chart a path forward as we address key issues and work together to achieve results.

Even if you do not live in Metro Detroit, you can still participate by watching the events online at www.greatlakesnow.org or tweeting questions to @CameronDavisEPA with hashtag #AskGLW. We are even taking questions through Facebook at www.facebook.com/epagreatlakes.  Select questions will be featured at the Great Lakes Week Panel and Town Hall.

Do you have a favorite memory about your beach or have you done something to help keep it clean? Feel free to share it with me along with your thoughts on the Great Lakes in the comment section. To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit

About the author: Peter Cassell is a Press Officer in Region 5 who focuses on water issues, the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.