Great Lakes Restoration Initiative evades budget cut

Members of the Saginaw Watershed Initiative Network release lake sturgeon fish into the Tittabawausse river to restore their native environment. (Photo courtesy of the Saginaw Watershed Initiative Network)

By Zach Parfeniuk, reporter.

U.S. president Donald Trump’s March 2019 budget proposal to congress included a 90 percent cut to the funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, going from a current $300 million to just $30 million.

However, at his Grand Rapids rally later that month Trump backed off, pledging to everyone in the audience that he would support the original budget.

“I support the Great Lakes,’ Trump said. “Always have. They are beautiful. They are big, very deep. Record deepness, right? And I am going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which you have been trying to get for over 30 years. So, we will get it done.”

If Trump has had a change of heart towards the program, it would be of the utmost importance to keep that promise, as the Great Lakes are in more and more danger every year from manmade pollution.

The Great Lakes are the lifeblood of the Michigan economy. According to Sea Grant Michigan, an estimated 23 percent of Michigan’s payroll to workers is associated in some part with the lakes.

Beyond the barriers of our own state, the lakes are of huge importance to the surrounding area. According to a report and infographic from Business Insider done by Jeff Disjardins, the Great Lakes region (Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec) accounts for half of all US-Canadian bilateral border trade, and ships over 200 million tons of cargo across the lakes every year. From that same infographic, if the Great Lakes region were separated into their own economy, they would be the third largest in the world, only behind China and the United States itself, with a GDP of $6 trillion.

The Great Lakes are also ecological powerhouses, especially when it comes to the world’s supply of freshwater. Only one percent of the world’s freshwater is surface level, the rest is made of up glaciers (69 percent) and groundwater reservoirs (30 percent). Of that one percent, the lakes provide 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water, and 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water. This alone speaks to their importance for the vitality of the planet, especially as human activity threatens freshwater through pollution.

Overall, it is integral to keep the lakes clean, not just for us, but for the generations to come afterwards. Whatever happens will determine a large part of the world’s freshwater future.

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