This week, the United States Congress and President Obama signed into law new legislation that will solidify the future of many programs that are important to the Great Lakes, known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.
In a statement to the press, President Obama said, [The WIIN Act] authorizes vital water projects across the country to restore watersheds, improve waterways and flood control, and improve drinking water infrastructure. The law also authorizes $170 million for communities facing drinking water emergencies, including funding for Flint, Michigan, to recover from the lead contamination in its drinking water system. That help for Flint is a priority of this Administration. WINN also includes four Indian water rights settlements that resolve long-standing claims to water and the conflicts surrounding those claims, address the needs of Native Communities, fulfill the Federal trust responsibility to American Indians, and provide a sound base for greater economic development for both the affected tribes and their non-Indian neighbours.”
WIIN includes many provisions that are critically important to the Great Lakes. It includes authorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) for five years at $300 million per year, provides support for shipping, addresses the algal bloom problem, allocates funding to solve the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and strengthens programs to improve fish and wildlife in the Great Lakes.
Mayor Paul Dyster of Niagara Falls, current vice-chair of the Cities Initiative, said, “The passage of this law is critically important to the future of the tremendous freshwater resource we share between Canada and the United States and to our communities, and ensures that the momentum developed over the past five years in protecting and restoring the resource will be maintained.”
The Great Lakes Cities Initiative Executive Director David Ullrich said, “Many of our member cities have received funding under GLRI, which has allowed them to complete restoration projects that otherwise would not have been possible. These projects contribute to the economic well- being and quality of life in our communities, and make them more attractive for locating a new business and as a destination for visitors.”
The legislation includes the following Great Lakes provisions:
- Authorizes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a successful and popular program that is helping states and local communities clean up degraded toxic hotspots, restore habitat for fish and wildlife, thwart Asian carp and other invasive species, and prevent polluted runoff across the eight-state Great Lakes region
- Makes permanent the allocation of priority funds from the Harbour Maintenance Trust Fund for the Great Lakes Navigation System, sets a minimum appropriations level from the fund, and requires the Army Corps of Engineers to complete guidance on managing the Great Lakes as a single, comprehensive navigation system
- Establishes a Great Lakes Harmful Algal Bloom Coordinator to work with federal, state and local agencies to coordinate actions to address harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes
- Includes a variety of provisions that respond to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and support the work of states and local communities to repair, upgrade and monitor water infrastructure
- Reauthorizes and strengthens the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act and the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program, which support fish and wildlife restoration, conservation and management projects in the Great Lakes region
More information on the WIIN Act can be found online here.