Graham Sustainability Institute

U-M Leaders Visit White House to Discuss Great Lakes Restoration

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More than 80 environmental, sustainability, and academic Great Lakes leaders—including two from the University of Michigan—gathered at the White House Great Lakes Summit on February 29, 2012 to participate in a dialogue regarding the future plans for these massive bodies of freshwater.

Don Scavia, special counsel on sustainability to the president of U-M, and Knute Nadelhoffer, director of the U-M Biological Station and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, participated in the Wednesday event organized by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The summit followed Monday's smaller meeting between NGO and academic leaders and Obama Administration officials in the West Wing of the White House. At the earlier meeting, Scavia and the Great Lakes advocates put forward an agenda requesting several actions:

•    Maintained funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).
•    A boost in federal assistance to help communities combat sewage overflows.
•    Enactment of strong protections against ballast water invaders.
•    Confrontation of the algae bloom epidemic in Lake Erie.
•    More aggressive action to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River to prevent the spread of Asian carp.
•    To ensure the restoration initiative contains a solid scientific core.

As a member of the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board panel that reviewed the GLRI and a science advisor to the Healing Our Waters Coalition, Scavia attended the Monday meeting where the role of science and scientists was emphasized as key to ensuring the hundreds of individual GLRI projects add up to the larger goals of restoring the lakes. "To support an adaptive management framework for this massive restoration effort, it is critical that we monitor and assess progress at local to regional scales and across the range of stresses," Scavia said.

"The Administration made unprecedented investments in restoring the Great Lakes and made it a priority to work with state, city, environmental, academic and business leaders toward lasting solutions," said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Today's gathering at the White House is another important step in advancing the partnership between Federal agencies and community leaders that has fostered success for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and its goal of a healthy environment and a thriving economy for all Americans."
Established in 2010 with financial backing to date of $785 million, the GLRI addresses five urgent issues facing the bodies of freshwater:

•    Cleaning up toxics and areas of concern.
•    Combating invasive species.
•    Promoting near-shore health by protecting watersheds from polluted run-off;
•    Restoring wetlands and other habitats.
•    Tracking progress and working with strategic partners.

President Obama requested an additional $300 million for fiscal year 2013 for the initiative, and it was announced at the summit that the White House plans to continue the GLRI as a national priority, extending the current plan timeframe beyond fiscal year 2014.

The Secretary of Commerce noted the importance of the Great Lakes to the regional and national economy, citing the Michigan Sea Grant's Great Lakes Jobs 2011 Report. According to the report, economic data show that more than 1.5 million jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes, generating $62 billion in wages. The Great Lakes are responsible for jobs in several sectors, including: tourism and recreation; agriculture, fishing and food production; science and engineering; and the largest sector, manufacturing.

"U-M is excited with the opportunity for academics to have a more focused and sustained role in helping frame and implement the stronger science program," added Scavia. "We believe academics are in a great position to tackle this hurdle, to help design a system for answering the key accountability questions, and assessing how these actions add up to meet the larger goals."

For more information on Great Lakes Restoration visit: