This week, Congress passed and the President signed the FY2020 budget, funding critical Great Lakes and clean water programs. This budget is the culmination of a year of hard work and advocacy on the part of the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition and our members and partners, who engaged with communities to identify environmental needs and met with elected officials in Washington, D.C., and in their home states to let their representatives know how important the Great Lakes are for our drinking water, our economy and our way of life.
Here are a few highlights in this year’s budget:
1) Increased Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
For the first time since 2011, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative saw a funding increase, from $300 million to $320 million.
For more than a decade, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been the bedrock of restoration efforts across the Great Lakes. The initiative has funded thousands of restoration projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, including projects to restore wildlife habitat, fight invasive species, clean up toxic pollution, and much more.
2) Equitable Investments in Clean Drinking Water Infrastructure
The 2020 budget includes investments in infrastructure, including, $25.4 million for grants to small and disadvantaged communities. These grants will work to upgrade the drinking water infrastructure in communities that have traditionally been disinvested in, including rural communities and communities of color.
The budget also includes $19.5 million in grants to reduce lead in drinking water, which has been a persistent and prevalent problem in low-income communities.
Additionally, the budget includes $28 million in new dedicated funding to combat sewage overflows and build infrastructure for stormwater re-use. Sewage overflows and stormwater runoff are a major factor in polluting the streams and rivers that flow into the Great Lakes, and mitigating these sources must come at the local level. This new funding gives municipalities and water districts the tools they need to start fixing outdated sewage and stormwater infrastructure.
These investments are in addition to federal funding for two national water infrastructure program—the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, programs that provide low-interest loans to communities to fix and modernize wastewater infrastructure and drinking water infrastructure, respectively. Those programs saw slight declines in the current budget. Congress allocated $1.64 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (a $55 million decrease over fiscal year 2019) and $1.13 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (a nearly $38 million decrease over fiscal year).
3) Combating Invasive Species
The 2020 budget includes an increase in funding for research and action to prevent invasive species, particularly Asian Carp, from entering the Great Lakes. An additional $14 million was allocated for activities to prevent Asian Carp from entering and establishing in the Great Lakes, bringing total funding up to $25 million, while an additional $3 million was allocated to fund further research into early detection practices and control technologies critical to slowing the expansion of Asian Carp.
Stopping the spread of Asian Carp and preventing their establishment in the Great Lakes is a major priority for the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition and its partners, and this budget acknowledges the seriousness of the threat and the work we have left to do. The Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition supports the work that our partners are leading in making sure these harmful species do not enter the Great Lakes.
4) Researching and monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms
Toxic algal blooms threaten the drinking water and economy of Great Lakes communities, and the 2020 budget allocates $19 million to research and forecast these blooms.
Using these funds, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies will continue to work collaboratively with research partners, developing integrated approaches to understand the drivers, forecast, and help keep communities informed of the threat of toxic blooms. Research will also help to improve management strategies to reduce the frequency, severity and impacts of these blooms.
5) Funding critical science and research
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the 2020 budget includes funding to continue the critical science, research, and education needed to help restore and protect the waters that communities across the Great Lakes rely on. This includes funding for: the Great Lakes Science Center and National Sea Grant College Program.
Funded at $11.8 million, including an additional $3 million in this year’s budget, the Great Lakes Science Center is a facility operated by the U.S. Geological Survey for essential ecosystem assessment and fisheries management research. These funds will be crucial in surveying the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem and providing information to respond to threats as they occur.
The National Sea Grant College Program is a federal-university partnership program that works to maintain a healthy coastal environment and economy. The 2020 budget acknowledged its importance by increasing funding by $6 million for a total of $74 million. By combining university expertise with public outreach experts, the Sea Grant program is a critical research program for ensuring that our Great Lakes remain healthy and vibrant.
All told, the final budget provides a solid foundation to keep federal restoration on track and sets the stage for progress in 2020. As Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition Director Laura Rubin said: “We look forward to working with Congress in the new year to ensure that the Great Lakes remains a bi-partisan priority.”