Democrats and Republicans are hosting their nominating conventions this week and next. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition – while we do not endorse or oppose any candidate for office – are urging all candidates to adopt a strong Great Lakes platform.

Today, we kick off a series of articles on the Coalition’s five-plank clean water platform. We’ll be discussing the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative today, and over the next week, we’ll discuss the need for elected officials to boost clean water infrastructure funding, uphold clean water protections, fight invasive species, and confront toxic algal outbreaks.

Over the last 10 years, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has been a major driver behind the rejuvenation and recovery of the Great Lakes ecosystem from toxic pollution and other harmful human effects.

But serious threats remain. The 2020 election unfolds amid persistent threats to the health and safety of our Great Lakes communities. While significant progress has been made, much more remains to be done.

To build upon the gains already made and ensure a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem for future generations, presidential contenders Joe Biden and Donald Trump must pledge to increase the authorization and funding for the GLRI to $475 million to boost our work of cleaning up toxic contamination, reducing polluted runoff, stopping invasive species, restoring wetlands and other habitats, and responding to emerging threats.

Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been providing results for communities in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Through innovative partnerships with local environmental organizations, state and federal governments, and citizen groups, the GLRI has made progress in cleaning up some of the most toxic hotspots around the region – sites with cancer-causing pollutants that closed beaches, led to fish consumption advisories, and prohibited the drinking of water.

Nearly two-fifths of the region’s most toxic hotspots have been cleaned up, sparking redevelopment and business opportunities on waterfronts and improving water quality for drinking water. Conservation practices on local farms have doubled, reducing harmful polluted runoff that feeds toxic algae. Habitat and wildlife restoration and connectivity continue to improve with over 5,250 miles of rivers cleared of dams and other barriers.

These projects are protecting drinking water, providing more recreational opportunities, and helping the health of communities. At a time when clean, safe drinking water is even more vital to health and safety, these GLRI funds make a difference.   In Michigan, GLRI funds helped remove and replace a risky, dilapidated dam with a natural “rock ramp” – allowing fish access to Saginaw Bay for the first time in over a century. In Wisconsin, a streambank restoration reduced storm runoff, improving flood management and providing habitat for native species. In Pennsylvania, over 400 acres of wetland habitat were removed of invasive species and restored to a healthy habitat, greatly increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation.

These are just a few of the thousands of projects that the GLRI has enabled over the past ten years – and many more are waiting to start! The bottom line is that there is more work to do, and we cannot let federal restoration efforts falter. Cutting funding will only make projects harder and more expensive the longer we wait. If every person is to have a healthy community to live in, with safe drinking water and fish to eat, and equitable access to recreate on clean beaches, shorelines, and restored landscapes, we must increase our efforts and focus resources in these areas today. Moving forward, our work will only get harder as the climate changes and we discover new threats.

Candidates who support the Great Lakes must make an unequivocal pledge to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at no less than $475 million and provide a robust roadmap for continuing the progress we’ve made into the 2020s.