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Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to get $1B from infrastructure bill: ‘More money than the Great Lakes has ever seen’

Kayaker on Niagara River
Tom Dinki
/
WBFO News
A kayaker on the Niagara River on Aug. 16, 2021.

Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes may be cleaner in the coming years, thanks to $1 billion in funding from the federal infrastructure bill.

The funding, included in the Senate’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package passed last week, would go to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Since its inception a decade ago, the GLRI has received $3.4 billion and allocated it to 16 federal agencies, like the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, to do things like protect drinking water and make more fish safe to eat.

However, this latest $1 billion would be the initiative's largest ever single allocation.

“That’s more money than the Great Lakes has ever, ever seen,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who was at the Niagara River Monday to highlight the funding.

Schumer said Lake Erie and its waterways, like the Niagara River and Buffalo River, are the lifeline of Western New York.

Chuck Schumer at Niagara River
Tom Dinki
/
WBFO News
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks at the Niagara River on Aug. 16, 2021 to highlight $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that was included in the Senate's recent bipartisan infrastructure package.

“One of the reasons that Buffalo was established as a major city in the United States of America was the confluence of the waterways,” he said. “And if those go down the drain, they can't be used anymore for either recreational or economic purposes, we're in big trouble. So this is great news.”

The Great Lakes as a whole accounts for 84% of North America’s surface fresh water, and, according to a study last year involving Michigan University, is directly responsible for 1.3 million jobs in the U.S.

The new GLRI funding couldn’t be more timely, said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Last week’s U.N. report concluded the earth’s temperature is likely to rise 1.5 degrees celsius within the next two decades.

“Look at what's happening across the world with regards to climate change, and they're already talking about growth in this community as a result of climate refugees,” Poloncarz said. “Why? Because we have water, and we have to keep it clean.”

The GLRI has already made some progress. The Buffalo River is close to being delisted as a federal area of concern, officials said Monday, while the GLRI recently allocated $300,000 in hopes of eventually getting the Niagara River delisted for the first time in over 30 years.

“Despite our progress, serious threats to the health of lakes remained, whether it be the fact that fish are still unsafe to eat or that sewage overflows are polluting our water with raw sewage,” said Brian Smith, associate director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “But this infrastructure package is robust funding for Great Lakes restoration, and clean water infrastructure will be a shot in the arm that we need to help address these looming threats that are threatening our lakes.”

Schumer said he expects the House to soon pass the infrastructure bill, and although more money could be added, he said the House will not be taking any money away.