Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Great Lakes Restoration Funding Program Approaches Next Phase

Susan Bence
Advocates say the Milwaukee River is a healthier system thanks to GLRI funding, but much more remains to be done.

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.  

Credit Susan Bence
Ozaukee County's GLRI-funded fish passage projects range from a massive fishway bypassing a historic dam on the Milwaukee River to this small passage in Mee-Kwon Park.

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.

Credit Susan Bence
You can't see them but Andrew Struck is standing in a sea of recently planted 20,000 native tree seedlings. The land is owned by the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

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.

Credit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
A multi-year GLRI-funded project removed contaminated sediment in the Lincoln Park area of the Milwaukee River. "We were able to remove about 70 percent of the known PCB contamination to the Milwaukee River with that project alone." - Cheryl Nenn, MIlwaukee Riverkeeper.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.


Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.