The Great Lakes region hold 20% of the world’s freshwater, one-third of the U.S. population, and is the 3rd largest economy in the world, in terms of gross domestic product.1
In Ohio, Lake Erie attracts more than 7 million people annually, supporting a $14 billion-plus annual tourism and travel industry and supplying more than $1.8 billion in federal, state, and local taxes.
Hunting and angling support 33,000 jobs and inject $1.9 billion annually into Ohio’s economy, generating $195 million in state and local taxes. Bird watching adds another $26-plus million annually to Ohio’s economy and supports nearly 300 jobs.
For every $1 of investment in Great Lakes restoration, at least $2, and up to $6, is created in economic revenue. Investing $26 billion to restore the Great Lakes would generate at least $50 billion, and up to $100 billion, in economic benefit through increased tourism, fishing, bird watching, and home values. Cleveland stands to generate up to $3.7 billion in economic return alone.4
In Ohio, a restoration project in Euclid Creek watershed (Cleveland metro area), is expecting slightly more than a 2-to-1 economic return. Yet a recent study5 shows that these previous studies and figures may be a bit conservative. Grand Valley State University looked at the restoration of the Muskegon Lake shoreline and estimated a 6-to-1 return on a $10 million investment. A similar return is expected from a $2.1 million investment in White Lake, Michigan, restoration efforts.
No matter what study you look at, the results are in: Great Lakes restoration is essential to our quality of life and our economy.
In 2004, former-President Bush signed an executive order declaring the Great Lakes a national treasure and charging the U.S. EPA with developing a regional collaboration to protect and restore the Great Lakes.
Over the next year, nearly 1,500 federal, state, local and tribal governments, environmental-conservation groups, businesses, industrial groups, and concerned citizens came together to develop the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes. The Strategy outlined 8 priority areas and called for $20 billion in funding to carry out the actions within the Strategy. It was released on December 12, 2005, but unfortunately no federal agency endorsed the Strategy.
Funding for Great Lakes restoration remained flat until the 2008 presidential election, when the Great Lakes got some much deserved attention and both presidential candidates stated that they would fund Great Lakes restoration. As a candidate, former-President Barack Obama stated that he would provide $5 billion over his term to kickstart Great Lakes restoration.
In effort to hold true to his funding promise, former-President Obama’s first budget request included $475 million for Great Lakes restoration through a line item called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), and Congress approved this budget request as a result of strong bipartisan support. As the economy continued to downturn former-President Obama reduced the amount he requested for the GLRI. So in 2010 and since, with strong bipartisan support, Congress approved $300 million. The GLRI is the largest investment in the Great Lakes in nearly two decades.
Also within former-President Obama’s first term, his administration developed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan, which is updated every 5 years. Utilizing the GLRC Strategy, the U.S. EPA narrowed their action plan to five priority areas, which include:
The Action Plan lays out goals, objectives, measurable ecological targets, and specific actions for each of the five priority areas. The federal agencies use the priority areas within the Action Plan when developing the funding priorities under the GLRI.
The results are in and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is helping revitalize Lake Erie and the communities within Lake Erie. The GLRI is protecting drinking water for nearly 3 million Ohioans, restoring vital habitat for prized fish and other wildlife, reducing the amount of pollutants flowing into Lake Erie, creating jobs, and spurring local economies.
Jerry Whipple, owner and operator of Whipple Farms, is one of those success stories. With Great Lakes Restoration funding at $35.46 per acre, Mr. Whipple planted cover crops in 2011 and 2012 on his 400-acre farm. Along with his practice of no-till farming and filter strips, the improvements help control weeds and help keep fertilizer and soil from washing off of his field into streams and rivers that drain to Lake Erie.