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New federal budget maintains funding for key programs that help protect Great Lakes

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In the weeks following congressional passage of an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2016, Great Lakes advocates were hailing the federal legislation as a victory for protecting and restoring the world’s largest system of fresh surface water.
As has been the case in past budget cycles, future funding levels for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiativehad been in doubt. President Obama, who helped create the GLRI during his first year as president, had called for a $50 million reduction in funding for FY 2016.
But the final budget maintains funding at $300 million, and it also formally authorizes the initiative — a move that will put it on more solid footing during the annual budget-making process in Washington, D.C.
“The strong bipartisan support for Great Lakes restoration and protection was essential,” says Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters Coalition.
Earlier in the year, 44 state legislators (all members of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus) signed on to a letter urging Congress to prevent cuts to the GLRI and to formally authorize it. The initiative has focused on four main areas: protecting wetlands and other habitat, cleaning up “Areas of Concern,” preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species, and preventing nonpoint source pollution. In the initiative’s first six years, $2 billion has gone to support more than 2,000 Great Lakes-related projects.
The new budget bill includes funding for several other Great Lakes-related projects. For example:
• $1.39 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which helps states and municipalities maintain infrastructures that protect water quality ($510 million of the $1.39 billion will go to the eight Great Lakes states, according to the Healing Our Waters Coalition);
• $1.2 billion for maintaining the nation’s ports, including those in the Great Lakes region, via revenue from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus passed a resolution on this funding issue in 2015); and
• $9.5 million for a program that, in part, provides grants to states to test water quality at beaches and to notify the public when conditions are unsafe.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also now has the authority to accelerate a study of options for installing new barriers or other technologies that control the movement of Asian carp at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam (part of the Chicago Area Waterway System).
Under a separate measure, federal lawmakers established a nationwide ban on the manufacturing of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads. This prohibition takes effect next year and preempts previous state bans.