This evening the EPA is holding a meeting in Milwaukee. It's one in a series around the Great Lakes designed to help the agency design Action Plan III of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI.
The funding program came to life in 2009 during the Obama Administration. With the advent of the Trump Administration there were rumblings that GLRI would end. But the fund continues, having distributed nearly $3 billion.
According to the EPA, “Since 2010 the multi-agency GLRI has provided funding to 16 federal organizations to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to accelerate progress toward achieving long term goals."
Herpetologist (someone who studies amphibians and reptiles) Gary Casper is among the Great Lakes advocates in Wisconsin who want the federal program to continue.
Casper says GLRI funding allowed him to carry out a deep-dive wildlife survey in environmentally challenged areas, including along Cedar Creek.
Ozaukee County planning and parks director Andrew Struck has already coordinated over a dozen projects fueled by GLRI funding, including at Mee-Kwon Park A crew removed a dam there that separated a stream and pond.
“We put in what’s called cross veins. These rocks cross vein so the fish can pass between these gaps … So this is passible during the migratory time and yet it still holds the elevation of the water of the pond,” Struck says.
The federal funding also has helped improve the health of the tree canopy within the watershed. Struck says Ozaukee County stands to lose tens of thousands of ash trees to Emerald Ash Borer.
“We have examples right in front of us here where that ash tree is already dead. And so part of these grants have been to restore what we’re going to losing in big numbers of ash trees,” Struck says.
He describes a recent GLRI project. “We’ve planted about 20,000 seedlings just in this last year to restore some agricultural fields,” Struck adds, “All of [these projects] impact the Lake Michigan drainage, wildlife habitat and water quality.”
Cheryl Nenn with Milwaukee Riverkeeper says there's still work to be done.
“We do know that downstream from the former Estabrook Dam we have pockets of contamination we have to deal with, not only in the river in some cases on the floodplain,” Nenn says.
The GLRI also helps keep the waterways safe for the public.
“That’s what it’s all about. Kids are down here – they’re fishing, they’re wading in some cases, they’re swimming so it’s all about cleaning up this river so it’s safe to enjoy,” Nenn adds, “I think that’s what the GLRI does.”
The public can share thoughts on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative here.
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