Protecting America’s Coasts: What It Means to the Great Lakes

By Cameron Davis

Nearly 1,000 people attended the recent Coastal Zone 2011 conference in Chicago to recognize the first year anniversary of President Obama’s “National Ocean Policy,” to protect the country’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. So, why should we freshwater fans in the Great Lakes basin care about a policy that seems largely about saltwater? For a lot of reasons.

First, the Great Lakes are connected to and impacted by saltwater. Our front door is the St. Lawrence River, through which ocean-going ships enter the Great Lakes. Our back door is the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), which connects Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico via the Chicago, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Both doors present a way for invasive species to enter the Great Lakes and vice versa.

Second, in an era of shrinking budgets, stronger coordination and partnership is important. At this conference, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s work with the Great Lakes Inter-Agency Task Force was mentioned as a good example of Federal and binational agency coordination.

Third, investments in ecosystem restoration typically come out of the same pots of funding. To avoid a zero-sum game, where one dollar for one system means the loss of that dollar for a different system, the national policy can be a mechanism to ensure a “rising tide lifts all boats” by funding and coordinating work in all regions while recognizing regional differences.

For more about President Obama’s National Ocean Policy, visit

For more about the CZ 2011 conference, visit

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.

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