ANN ARBOR, MICH. (October 9, 2017)—As the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration debate the fate of core Great Lakes restoration programs, hundreds of advocates for the lakes prepare to gather in Buffalo, N.Y., October 17-19, for the 13th annual Great Lakes restoration conference.

“We hope the conference is a catalyst for continued congressional support for federal Great Lakes restoration efforts,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Republicans and Democrats in Congress have delivered for the Great Lakes before, and we’re asking them to not waiver now—more than 30 million people depend on the lakes for their drinking water. Federal investments are producing results in communities from Buffalo to Duluth, but serious threats remain. Now is not the time to scale back the nation’s commitment to the Great Lakes or problems will get worse and more costly to solve.”

The conference will highlight cutting-edge issues that impact the lakes and communities in the eight-state region of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. This year, topics include the revitalization of the Buffalo River and its effect on communities and local economy; the state of New York’s recent $2.5 billion commitment to fix the state’s water infrastructure; efforts to curb toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie; and the intersection between restoration efforts, urban communities, and frontline communities that have often borne the brunt of environmental degradation.

Read the agenda at:

Conference registration closes October 12. Follow conference proceedings on Twitter at #GreatLakes17

The conference comes as the U.S. Congress works to finalize the budget for this federal fiscal year. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is asking Congress to:

  • support $300 million in the federal budget for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, control invasive species, and reduce farm and city runoff;
  • increase by at least twofold—to nearly $5 billion—the funding for federal programs that help communities fix wastewater and drinking water infrastructure;
  • reject budget cuts to agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, which oversee federal restoration efforts; and,
  • reject bad policies that undermine federal investments in the Great Lakes.

Over the last eight years, the federal government has invested more than $2.5 billion in more than 3,500 local projects across the Great Lakes region as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But more work needs to be done, as evidenced by recurring harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, beach closings, and fish consumption advisories. Further, the region faces old and crumbling water infrastructure—part of a national water infrastructure crisis. The EPA estimates it will take more than $660 billion over the next 20 years to fix, update, and modernize national stormwater, wastewater and drinking water systems. Great Lakes states face almost $180 billion in needed improvements.


Wastewater Infrastructure Need over 20 years Drinking Water Infrastructure need over 20 years Total need over 20 years
Minnesota $2.389 billion $7.363 billion $9.903 billion
Wisconsin $6.329 billion $7.141 billion $13.616 billion
Illinois $6.537 billion $18.985 billion $25.913 billion
Indiana $7.162 billion $6.547 billion $13.843 billion
Michigan $2.077 billion $13.814 billion $16.175 billion
Ohio $14.587 billion $12.191 billion $27.030 billion
Pennsylvania $6.950 billion $14.227 billion $21.471 billion
New York $31.439 billion $22.041 billion $53.936 billion
Total $77.470 billion $102.289 billion $179.759 billion

The staggering price tag comes as federal investments in infrastructure are declining and local communities are footing a greater portion of the bill. Federal funding for water infrastructure has dropped significantly over the last four decades. In 1977, federal investments made up 63 percent of total spending on water infrastructure. By 2014, that had dropped down to 9 percent. And, unsurprisingly water rates are going up: from 2010 to 2017, water rates increased 41 percent across the country. Many communities—especially those with high rates of poverty and unemployment—find such additional costs untenable.

“It’s important that as we confront the nation’s water infrastructure crisis we make sure that we’re not putting the entire burden on communities that can ill afford it,” said Ambs. “Every person deserves the right to clean, affordable water. The U.S. government should pitch in its fair share and invest in solutions to help local communities protect our drinking water, economy, and way of life.”

Sponsors of the annual conference include more than 50 businesses, foundations, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, including: PSAV, The Brookby Foundation, Fund for Lake Michigan, The Joyce Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, Great Lakes Today, The Brico Fund, Park Foundation, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Freshwater Future, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Geological Survey, International Joint Commission, Canadian Consulate General of Detroit, Frey Foundation, Shedd Aquarium, University of Michigan Water Center, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and River Network.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 145 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @healthylakes.