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The U.S. Senate should pass the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2014, a critical piece of legislation that keeps Great Lakes renewal efforts moving ahead.

The act authorizes $300 million annually for five years to support a relatively new restoration program that has already proven its worth. The House has already signed off.

Over the past five years, the initiative has invested more than $1.6 billion to restore the Lakes by cleaning up toxic pollutants, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, fighting invasive species, and reducing run-off from cities and farms.

Jordan Lubetkin, of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center, says his group is happy with the proposed allocation of $300 million, especially because earlier this year some members of Congress tried to reduce the amount.

The Great Lakes are among Michigan’s most valuable assets, as well as the nation’s.

The economic numbers speak for themselves. Michigan ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of jobs associated with industries related to water, at 718,700. The Great Lakes states benefit from and contribute to the national economy through a $7 billion fishing industry.

Also, the Great Lakes provide more than 1.5 million jobs to U.S citizens with more than $62 billion in wages. The most recent tourism figures, of which the Great Lakes are a critical element, show that in 2012 about 3.8 million visitors were attracted to the state and they spent $1.1 billion.

Initiatives funded by the act protect drinking water, clean up toxic pollution and keep beaches safe for swimming for the more than 30 million people in the region.

In the long run, the cost of not funding the programs now will be much greater, as pollution and other problems escalate. The act creates jobs and economic benefits.

Todd Ambs, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, says the bill strengthens federal Great Lakes restoration efforts.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing results in communities across the region, but more needs to be done,” he says.

While the act authorizes the $300 million for the initiative, Congress must still include in in next year’s spending plan. It’s a worthwhile investment for a resouce so vital to the entire nation.

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