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New report highlights restoration of the Great Lakes

Industrial pollution once plagued the Great Lakes. But over the past 35 years, both the United States and Canada have collaborated to clean up and restore the lakes and their shorelines.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird came to Buffalo to see first-hand what industrial pollution was doing to Lake Erie. The lake was considered dead.

But more than 50 years later, a new report titled "Great Lakes Revival" tells the story of how Buffalo and other rust-belt cities reclaimed their waters.  It was prepared by the International Association for Great Lakes Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gail Krantzberg, an engineering professor at McMaster University in Southern Ontario, is one of the report's authors. She said people began to realize that protecting the fresh waters of the Great Lakes was key to the region's future.

"There's been great improvement in the restoration of habitat, control of pollution, cleaning up contaminated sediment and making water safer to drink," Krantzberg said.

Despite the progress, Krantzberg said there will always be challenges for the lakes, and that further financial investment will be required.

"We need to invest in soft infrastructure to let rainwater (seep) into the ground so it doesn't even go into the sewers," Krantzberg said. "These are solveable problems. But they (cost) big money -- billions of dollars."

Krantzberg said the biggest challenge the Great Lakes will face in the coming years is the impact from climate change. She said greater amounts of rainfall are already causing sewer overflows.

She said the presence of microplastics in the Great Lakes is an immediate issue that also needs to be addressed.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.