Advocates Gather in Buffalo to Urge Continued Federal Investment in Great Lakes

6th annual restoration conference focuses on need for continued federal investment in Great Lakes to confront historic and emerging threats

09-23-2010 // Jordan Lubetkin

As the nation begins to invest a precedent-setting $475 million to restore the Great Lakes, citizens, advocates, business leaders and public officials are gathering in Buffalo to urge the nation to maintain its commitment to rehabilitative the world’s largest supply of surface fresh water.

The 6th annual Great Lakes restoration conference—sponsored by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition—comes amid increasing excitement in the region that after years of abuse and neglect, the Lakes are starting to receive significant help from the federal government.

Progress to Restore Great Lakes

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration has started to announce final grant recipients of the $475 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—a federal program that funds solutions to the most urgent problems facing the Lakes, including invasive species, toxic pollution, habitat destruction and polluted run-off from cities and farms.

The initiative has been widely hailed as kick-starting the federal effort to restore the Lakes and revitalize the regional economy which depends on them. Cameron Davis, senior advisor to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, will deliver the keynote address today and is expected to announce final restoration award recipients in New York.

President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery a shot in the arm,” said the National Wildlife Federation’s Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, “and we’d like to see that support continue, before the problems get worse and the solutions get more costly.”

The conference—whose theme is “Putting People to Work to Restore the Great Lakes”—will focus on the economic power of restoration; provide information on how local organizations can participate in the federal program; and examine how the region can continue to work collaboratively with the federal officials to support Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery. The conference will also highlight restoration success stories and examine the importance of enforcing environmental laws.

The conference is expected to draw nearly 300 people from around the region—a testament to the broad support for Great Lakes restoration from citizens, businesses, industry leaders, mayors, governors and tribal leaders.

Healthy Lakes, Healthy Economy

“People, businesses and communities understand that the health of the Great Lakes is inextricably linked to the health of the regional economy,” said Skelding. “Investments in Great Lakes restoration create jobs and lay the foundation for long-term prosperity.”

The Brookings Institution found that every $1 investment in Great Lakes restoration leads to at least $2 in economic return for the eight states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Buffalo and cities throughout the region stand to benefit from a national investment in the Lakes. Like many cities across the region, Buffalo has experienced—and is still trying to overcome—the devastating impacts left from a legacy of toxic pollution and other environmental degredation. Buffalo joins a growing number of cities working to create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods and boost prosperity by re-connecting to the waters that have defined them—the Great Lakes.

Despite the progress being made to restore the Lakes, the Great Lakes face many serious threats. Invasive species cost people, businesses and cities at least $200 million in damages and control costs. Antiquated sewers dump billions of gallons of waste and storm water into the Lakes annually. A legacy of toxic pollution poses health risks to people and wildlife. And habitat destruction harms water quality, threatens wildlife and undermines the region’s outdoor recreation economy.

Asian Carp Poses New, Urgent Threat

In addition to historic threats facing the Lakes, new ones are emerging such as the advancing Asian carp.

“Our message to President Obama and Congress is simple,” said Skelding. “Keep up the good work, but don’t let up. There is a tremendous amount of work still to do, and we cannot rest until the job is done.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 115 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. The National Wildlife Federation is one of the co-leaders of the coalition.

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