State seeks federal aid for Great Lakes

Lansing – As the Obama administration takes the reins in
Washington, state officials are again asking for federal support to
protect and improve the health and economic viability of the Great
Lakes.

Past requests for federal dollars for Great Lakes restoration
have fallen short, they say. Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. John
Cherry and Ken DeBeaussaert, director of the Michigan Office of the
Great Lakes, released the MI-Great Lakes Plan, which outlines
specific recommendations to protect and restore the Great Lakes and
Michigan waterways.

The plan calls for federal investments to the tune of $3 billion
annually.

“Protecting and restoring Michigan waterways is essential to our
economic transformation,” Cherry said in a press release. “By
investing in the Great Lakes, we will sustain and improve our
quality of life, make Michigan more attractive to talented workers
and new businesses, and create jobs.”

The Great Lakes – which hold one-fifth of the world’s fresh
surface water – provide 823,000 jobs in Michigan, nearly 25 percent
of the state’s payroll. The lakes provide Michigan with more
freshwater coastline than any other state in the nation; feature a
world-renowned commercial and sport fishery – collectively valued
at more than $4 billion annually; contribute substantially to the
state’s $12.8 billion travel industry; and provide water for
agriculture and food industries.

Michigan’s charter boat industry provides an estimated $21
million economic benefit annually, and the harbors and marinas –
through recreational boating – generate a $2 billion boost to the
state’s economy annually.

The requested federal funding would be used to implement various
aspects of the MI-Great Lakes Plan, including:

€ $54 million for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, to ensure
continued cleanup of contaminated sediments;

€ $3.8 million annually for the BEACH Act, to prevent beach
closures and protect human health;

€ Restoring the historic funding level of $1.35 billion for the
Clean Water State Revolving Fund, so communities can reinvest in
necessary improvements to their water and sewer systems;

€ $43 million to fight existing aquatic invasive species and to
prevent the introduction and spread of new ones.

The plan also would provide critical funding to maintain
existing and restore lost wetlands, strengthen the Michigan Natural
Rivers Program, and restore key fish populations like lake trout
and brook trout, among other projects.

The MI-Great Lakes Plan was spawned through a collective effort
of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, businesses, and advocacy
groups including tribal interests and individual input.

“The MI-Great Lakes Plan is built from the ground up, based on
the experiences, challenges, and needs of communities across
Michigan,” DeBeaussaert said in the release. “The recommendations
in the plan reflect approaches that have already succeeded in
creating jobs and improving water quality and apply those
approaches to meeting the challenge of long-term sustainability of
our waterways and economic recovery.”

Past investments have added significantly to Michigan’s economy.
For example, since 2003 Michigan has invested more than $1.5
billion in local water and sewer infrastructure improvements that
have created 17,000 jobs.

“Our responsibility is to protect, clean, and enjoy these waters
and teach the world how to smartly manage a finite and increasingly
valuable global resource,” Cherry wrote in the plan. “Our
opportunity is to capitalize on Michigan’s location at the center
of North America’s ‘freshwater coast.’ In doing so, we can
sustainably grow Michigan’s economy and that of the whole Great
Lakes region.”

The plan addresses a wide array of Great Lakes problems and
issues ranging from invasive species, coastal health, and nonpoint
source pollution to habitat restoration and sustainable
development.

Specific benefits of implementing the plan would reach well
beyond the obvious environmental and economic benefits to the
lakes. For instance, the plan recommends that Michigan take steps
to improve its partnership with the federal Farm Service Agency’s
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program by:

€ Completing Michigan’s current CREP agreement, which calls for
a total of 85,000 acres of conservation practices to enhance water
quality and wildlife habitat; and

€ Working with the FSA to expand areas of Michigan eligible for
this funding. Currently, CREP is limited to the Saginaw Bay
watershed, the Lake Macatawa watershed, the River Raisin watershed,
and several small watersheds in the western Lake Erie Basin.

Currently, Michigan is restoring approximately 4,000 acres of
wetland per year. The MI-Great Lakes Plan calls for the restoration
of 18,000 acres of wetlands and 36,000 acres of upland grassland
buffers around the restored wetlands over three years.

Achieving this three-year goal, according to the plan, will
require a 50-percent increase (6,525 acres per year) in Michigan’s
current rate of wetland restoration under the Wetland Reserve
Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and the Partners
for Fish and Wildlife Program.

A long-term goal of the plan calls for the restoration of
500,000 acres of wetlands (10 percent of historic losses) and
establishing, up to 1 million acres of upland grassland buffers
around the restored wetlands.

“Michigan should take full advantage of the Farm Bill programs
and other USDA conservation programs to address working lands
resource concerns that impact all wetlands (both restored and
intact),” the plan says. “Additionally, the USDA Environmental
Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program,
Continuous Conservation Reserve Program should be used to assist in
protecting wetlands through establishment of conservation measures
and in the case of Continuous CRP, restoration of wetlands.”

Economic analysis by the Brookings Institution and Michigan Sea
Grant estimates that the requested federal investments would
produce $7 to $13 billion in economic benefits to the state.

“Michigan’s economic recovery and our future prosperity depend
on protecting our waterways,” Cherry said. “We have a
president-elect from the Great Lakes region who understands Great
Lakes issues and has made specific budgetary commitments. That
provides us with a tremendous opportunity to jumpstart our recovery
by investing in Michigan’s blue-water economy.”

To view the MI-Great Lakes Plan, go to: www.michigan.gov/deqgreatlakes.

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