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EPA unveils Great Lakes restoration plan

Crafted by 16 federal agencies, the five-year, $475-million proposal seeks to heal the Great Lakes ecosystem from '150 years of abuse.'

February 22, 2010|By Jim Tankersley

Reporting from Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency on Sunday unveiled a five-year, $475-million plan to revitalize the Great Lakes, including cleaning up polluted water and beaches, restoring wetlands and fighting invasive species such as Asian carp.

Federal and state officials call the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan "historically unprecedented" in size, funding and coordination between branches of government.

The plan calls itself light on study and heavy on action, seeking to heal the Great Lakes ecosystem from "150 years of abuse" and to ensure that "fish are safe to eat; the water is safe to drink; the beaches and waters are safe for swimming, surfing, boating and recreating; native species and habitats are protected and thriving; no community suffers disproportionately from the impacts of pollution; and the Great Lakes are a healthy place for people and wildlife to live."

Developed by 16 federal agencies, the plan requires annual progress reports from the EPA on restoration activities and the allocation of funding, which would come from the normal congressional appropriations process.

The plan sets concrete measures for progress on several key threats to the lakes and their surrounding communities.

For example, it sets a goal to collect or prevent the release of 45 million pounds of electronic waste, 45 million unwanted pills and 4.5 million pounds of household hazardous waste in the Great Lakes basin by 2014. It also sets out to significantly reduce harmful algal blooms and to clean out 9.4 million cubic yards of toxic sediment.

It promises a "zero-tolerance policy" toward invasive species, such as Asian carp, that threaten to overrun native plants and wildlife. It calls for a 40% drop in the new detection of such species by 2014.

The plan also seeks to cut damaging runoff from farms, cities and suburbs into Great Lakes watersheds, which supply municipal drinking water and animal habitat, and to reduce beach pollution so recreation areas can stay open longer during the year. It includes the first complete assessment of the lakes' entire 530,000-acre coastal wetland, and a goal of restoring nearly 100,000 acres of wetlands and other habitat areas by 2014.

Several governors from Great Lakes states say the plan will boost their environmental quality -- and help energize a multibillion-dollar regional economy reliant on shipping, fishing and tourism.

Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle, the co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said in an interview that the plan was "what we would have laid out as Great Lakes governors if we could have written it ourselves."

Cameron Davis, a senior advisor for Great Lakes issues to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, said the plan would "help bring the region together" behind a common goal of restoring its signature waters.

But the ultimate success, he said, would depend on nature -- much like the final outcome of a surgery depends on the patient's capacity to recover.

"We can undertake everything that we commit to do," Davis said, "but it's still up to the ecosystem to respond."

jtankersley@tribune.com

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