In mid-January, Congress released its 2014 spending bill, and from a conservation standpoint, it’s good news for the Great Lakes and Indiana.
The bill restores funding to two critical Great Lakes programs. It provides $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative; the program received $285 million in 2013. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund is set to receive $1.44 billion for fiscal year 2014; the program received $1.37 billion in 2013.
In case you’ve not heard of it, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative supports efforts to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, fight invasive species, and reduce runoff from cities and farms that pollute our lakes and knock the ecosystem off balance.
Since 2010, more than $25 million in funding has been invested in Indiana for key projects ranging from Asian carp research to the purchase of forested wetlands to on-the-ground restoration work in various coastal habitats.
In fact, more than 2,600 acres of habitat have been restored in Indiana thanks to this funding. Our beloved Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has undertaken remarkable wetland restoration projects using these dollars at Great Marsh and Cowles Bog.
These projects are producing results. A great example is the daylighting of Dunes Creek in the Indiana Dunes State Park. This project brought a creek previously covered under the paved parking lot back into the sunlight. It created new fish habitat and reduced polluted runoff and bacterial pollution from entering Lake Michigan.
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund provides low-interest loans to communities across the nation to upgrade sewage infrastructure. Many wastewater pipes around the Great Lakes and in Northwest Indiana are aging and need repair or replacement to prevent dirty wastewater from getting into our streams, rivers, wetlands and Lake Michigan. This program helps towns and municipalities fix these problems, reducing beach closures and improving water quality.
The loan program distributes funding to all 50 states based on a fixed formula, and many communities in Indiana have benefitted from the program and made significant upgrades to their wastewater systems. The 2014 spending bill would provide about $530 million to the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
Given the frequency of beach closures and advisories in Northwest Indiana alone, these funds are simply critical to make meaningful progress toward fixing our aging infrastructure.
I want to say thanks to our legislators because each and every one of them voted to approve the budget. Particularly at a time when we expect strong accountability in government programs, it’s good to know these Great Lakes programs are delivering results in communities across the region and right here at home in Northwest Indiana.