By TAMMY WEBBER
CHICAGO (AP) — The Obama administration has announced an updated five-year plan for restoring the Great Lakes, calling for accelerated efforts to address toxic pollution, invasive species and farm runoff and restore plant and wildlife habitat.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy released the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s action plan in Chicago on Wednesday at a meeting of mayors from Great Lakes states, saying it is a roadmap for federal agencies to “strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem.”
The plan also has a new component: Beginning in 2017, any new project is required to consider climate change. For example, wetland plants and trees would be selected for suitability to warmer temperatures and watershed restorations would be designed to handle more frequent and intense storms.
Congress has appropriated $1.6 billion since 2009 for restoration projects, coordinated by the EPA with support from 10 other federal departments.
Efforts across the eight-state region have included removal of toxic sediments, rebuilding wetlands and removing invasive plants. The program also has supported efforts to prevent Asian carp from reaching the lakes and is targeting runoff from farms and sewage plants that causes noxious algae blooms, like those that contaminated the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, this summer.
The plan calls for increasing voluntary actions by farmers and other agricultural operations, and for slowing runoff in urban areas through projects that include wetland restoration, reforestation and buffer zones between pollution sources and waterways.
Solving the problem of nutrient runoff is possible, but requires “a level playing field that recognizes that pollution is pollution no matter whether it comes from a pipe or from land that is producing our food,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
The administration also will begin evaluating how well projects are meeting their short-term objectives, rather than just long-term goals such as making all fish safe to eat or waters safe for recreation.
Since the initiative began in 2010, five Great Lakes areas that are listed as “areas of concern” because of toxic contamination have been cleaned up, and one area — Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania — has been taken off the list. In the next phase, cleanup should be completed at 10 more sites, according to the plan.Follow @twebber02