Great Lakes funding must survive cuts

The White House’s disregard for funding for Great Lakes restoration and preservation projects is becoming a recurring nightmare.

About a year after the Trump administration announced a first attempt to gut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — a move that failed to gain support from lawmakers who must approve budget proposals — the Office of Management and Budget came back for another bite.

This time the proposed budget would slash GLRI funding by 90 percent — from $300 million to $30 million per year — effectively demolishing a program that funds both local and regional efforts to restore or preserve our lakes. The cut would be part of a proposed $2.8 billion cut from the Environmental Protection Agency for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The repeated swipes at the GLRI should send a clear, alarming message to everyone who enjoys our state’s most important natural resource.

Apparently some of our country’s political elite believe the same level of cleanliness attained in the Hudson River where it flows around Manhattan should be good enough for lakes in the middle of “flyover country.”

But the standard of cleanliness met by the Hudson, the 24th most polluted river in the U.S. according to a 2012 study, simply isn’t good enough for the Great Lakes.

The GLRI has provided more than $2 billion in funding for cleanup efforts and invasive species mitigation, including programs intended to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.

On the local level the GLRI has funneled millions of dollars into the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, the Boardman River Restoration Project and the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network. The latter works to stop invasive plants from entering the region and funds programs that plant native species in the region.

“We’re able to put a lot of boots on the ground, hire seasonal workers and hire local businesses all because we have this Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding,” said Invasive Species Network program coordinator Katie Grzesiak.

The health of the Great Lakes, which represent about 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, probably is one of the most important issues facing our state. It’s particularly important when considering about 20 percent of jobs in our region are somehow tied to the lakes.

Thankfully lawmakers from every state bordering the Great Lakes signed onto a successful effort last year to circumvent the cut.

Many, including both Rep. Jack Bergman and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, have again pledged to use their budget-approval powers to ensure the GLRI remains intact for at least one more year.

Those who represent the Great Lakes are ready to fight for GLRI funding once again, a brawl that appears set to become an unnecessary annual occurrence.