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In 2009, President Obama and the U.S. Congress approved and funded precedent-setting legislation to restore the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) invested $475 million in 2010 to restore habitat, clean up toxic sediments, reduce non-point source pollution and prevent and control invasive species.
The Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition (HOW) launched an Implementation Program to make sure that local groups are equipped to efficiently manage projects under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and to ensure that funding for the GLRI results in effective projects on the ground. Equally critical will be the Coalition’s work to demonstrate the enormous need for the GLRI as the best tool to restore the Lakes and revitalize the regional economy.
The Coalition has identified five priority areas to focus our limited resources for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. These areas, which were selected based on science, are some of the most degraded in the Great Lakes, but also show vast potential for restoration success. Restoring them will not only create jobs, but most importantly will put in place a missing link in the burgeoning effort to nurse the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem back to health.
ST. LOUIS BAY
including the St. Louis River and Beartrap-Nemadji watersheds
PROBLEMS: Historic pollution and habitat destruction made the St. Louis River a Great Lakes Area of Concern. Pollutants from the land, air and water prompted restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption and have caused beach closings; the bay is a hotspot for new aquatic invasive species from ballast water discharges; there are ongoing threats of new contamination within the watershed, particularly from new mining operations; coastal alterations damaged wetlands and other nearshore habitat; several tributaries north of Duluth suffer from abnormally high water temperatures; and excessive nutrients and sediments degrade many streams in the area.
RESTORATION OPPORTUNITIES: Improve stream habitat for Coaster brook trout; improve fish habitat and restore coldwater regimes in select streams by removing dams; prevent development in ecologically sensitive areas to protect critical fish and wildlife habitat; and restore wetlands in the St. Louis River and bay.
including the Little Calumet-Galien, Pike-Root, and Chicago River watersheds
PROBLEMS: High potential for Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species to enter via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC); significant pollution problems and habitat loss have caused 14 beneficial use impairments — including contaminated sediments, damage to fish and wildlife and degraded plankton populations — in the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern and Waukegan Harbor Area of Concern. Bacterial pollution often forces the closure of Lake Michigan beaches in the area and noxious algae blooms contribute to taste and odor problems in drinking water.
RESTORATION OPPORTUNITIES: Removing contaminated sediments and reducing ongoing pollution will improve water quality and fish habitat; preventing the introduction of invasive species via the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal would help protect ecosystem integrity in the rivers and the Great Lakes; and restoring nearshore habitat could benefit wildlife and birds, including the federal endangered piping plover, which nests at the nearby Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
WESTERN LAKE ERIE
including the Lower Maumee River watershed and its coastal zone
PROBLEMS: Historic and ongoing pollution from urban and rural areas have caused 10 beneficial use impairments in the Maumee River, including eutrophication, harmful and noxious algae blooms, taste and odor problems in drinking water and restrictions on fish consumption; zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species are hurting fish populations; and the loss of more than 90 percent of coastal wetlands has eliminated significant habitat for fish and wildlife.
RESTORATION OPPORTUNITIES: Because the Maumee River and western Lake Erie are important sources of nutrients for the entire lake, reducing excessive nutrient loadings here will have broader benefits; reducing phosphorous runoff from farms could reduce harmful and noxious algae blooms; and restoring wetlands will create habitat for fish and wildlife.
including the Saginaw River watershed and the bay’s coastal zone
PROBLEMS: Historic and ongoing chemical and biological pollution have caused significant degradation and 14 beneficial use impairments in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay, including: deformities in some fish and wildlife; taste and odor problems in drinking water; beach closings and restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption. Blooms of harmful and noxious algae degrade water quality and threaten human health, fish and wildlife; destruction of wetlands has caused extensive habitat loss; and invasive species are widespread, particularly foreign mussels and Phragmites along the shoreline.
RESTORATION OPPORTUNITIES: Because Saginaw Bay plays an important role in broader Lake Huron functions, restoring wetlands and nearshore habitat could reap significant dividends for fish and wildlife; reducing nonpoint source pollution from urban and rural areas could slow eutrophication in the bay and reduce the incidence of harmful and noxious algae blooms; and controlling Phragmites, an invasive reed, could help restore native plant communities along the shoreline.
EASTERN LAKE ONTARIO
including the Irondequoit-Ninemile watershed
PROBLEMS: Water level regulation has caused unnatural fluctuations that damage coastal plant communities and help invasive species, such as cattails, thrive in coastal wetlands.
RESTORATION OPPORTUNITIES: A more natural hydrological scheme for Lake Ontario would help restore damaged wetlands, benefit native plant communities in coastal areas and protect unique dune complexes along eastern Lake Ontario. There is also the potential for increased restoration of native fish species in Sandy Creek and New York’s Ontario Bay.