EPA releases 5-year plan to improve Great Lakes
Chicago — The Obama administration unveiled an updated five-year plan for restoring the Great Lakes on Wednesday that outlines accelerated efforts to address toxic pollution, invasive species and farm runoff and restore plant and wildlife habitat.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy released the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s action plan in Chicago at a meeting of mayors from Great Lakes states, calling it a roadmap for federal agencies to “strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem.”
The plan also has a new component: Beginning in 2017, projects must consider the impact of climate change. For example, wetland plants and trees would be selected for suitability to warmer temperatures and watershed restorations would be designed to handle more frequent and intense storms.
Congress has appropriated $1.6 billion since 2009 for restoration projects, coordinated by the EPA with support from 10 other federal departments.
The general priorities of the plan “are right on target,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, adding he welcomes its new focus on data management and research, and efforts to adapt to climate change.
“Five or 10 years ago, cities were talking about developing climate action plans, but now it seems the smart money has moved beyond that and into building climate resilience,” Brammeier said. “It has to be integrated into every part of the work.”
Efforts across the eight-state region have included the removal of toxic sediments and invasive plants and the rebuilding of wetlands.
The initiative also has supported efforts to prevent Asian carp from reaching the lakes and is targeting runoff from farms and sewage plants that causes noxious algae blooms like those that contaminated the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, this summer.
The plan calls for increasing voluntary actions by farmers and other agricultural operations, and for slowing runoff in urban areas through projects that include wetland restoration, reforestation and buffer zones.
Solving nutrient runoff is possible, but requires “a level playing field that recognizes that pollution is pollution no matter whether it comes from a pipe or from land that is producing our food,” Brammeier said.
The administration also will begin evaluating how well projects are meeting their short-term objectives, rather than just long-term goals such as making all fish safe to eat or waters safe for recreation.
Since the initiative began in 2010, five Great Lakes areas that are listed as “areas of concern” because of toxic contamination have been cleaned up, and one area — Presque Isle Bay, in Pennsylvania — has been taken off the list. In the next phase, cleanup should be completed at 10 more sites, according to the plan.