TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- President Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to continue a program that has spent more than $1 billion dealing with some of the Great Lakes' longest running environmental problems.
Obama's budget for the 2014 fiscal year includes $300 million for the Lakes Restoration Initiative, which supports research and cleanup projects such as removing contaminated sediments, restoring wildlife habitat, battling invasive species and seeking ways to reduce phosphorus-laden runoff that causes toxic algae blooms.
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The program has provided more than 1,500 grants to university scientists, government agencies and nonprofit groups for projects in eight states. It also has supported the effort to prevent Asian carp from invading the lakes, where the aggressive fish could crowd out native species and unravel food webs.
"This budget keeps Great Lakes restoration on track," said Chad Lord, policy director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. "Maintaining funding for successful Great Lakes programs is a strong investment in our nation's environment and economy."
Obama successfully proposed $475 million for the program in fiscal 2010 and $300 million for each of the next three years, although the 2013 total may drop under automatic spending cuts that took effect March 1. The Environmental Protection Agency hasn't determined the amount of the reduction.
An EPA budget document said keeping the program at its present funding level would "allow for continued ecosystem restoration efforts while exercising fiscal restraint."
The president's spending plan also seeks nearly $63 million for Great Lakes projects overseen by the Detroit district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That includes $13.2 million to dredge seven harbors where low water levels threaten to disrupt commercial shipping. They include ports in the Michigan cities of Detroit, Grand Haven, Holland, Monroe and Saginaw, plus Green Bay, Wis., and the port shared by Superior, Wis., and Duluth, Minn.
An additional $3.6 million would be spent on monitoring Great Lakes levels and water flow.