On 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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