Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Editorial: Groundhog Day for GLRI

Screen grab from The Blade, Toledo's primary print news outlet -- March 12, 2019

It's too late to be Groundhog Day, but I'm starting to feel like Bill Murray. Once again, as the federal government turns to drafting and debating the budget, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI, again finds itself on the potential chopping block. I have written on this topic before (see March 2017), but the fact is, this proposal has been made multiple times over the last couple years -- and over the last couple administrations.

Bill Murray drives Punxsutawney Phil off a cliff
in the 1993 film "Groundhog Day"
Toledo Blade "Politics Writer" Liz Skalka does a good job framing the subject matter in her article in last Tuesday's newspaper. But the reality is that this story is being retold all over the region -- and hopefully all over the country -- and it should NOT be a political one . . . at least as it relates to party affiliation.

In my modest estimation, it is mind-boggling that GLRI continuously has to defend itself. $300M (the current level of funding) hides in our defense budget like a heron in the cattails. Even though this number might sound like a lot at first blush, it represents a mere 0.00632% of the $4.75 trillion dollar budget that was just proposed by the White House. Not that I am advocating this quantitatively, but to provide some prospective, we would have to spend 159-times the $300M GLRI budget to reach just 1% of the total federal budget being proposed. The current recommendation from the White House is instead to cut these funds by 90% -- to $30M. From where I sit, we should be willing to invest a bit more in one of the most precious freshwater supplies on the planet.

GLRI dollars are consistently making a positive impact on the health and well-being of the Great Lakes. I can readily admit that I am biased -- our own water conveyance rehabilitation project will be added to a growing map of success stories. As an Ohian, as an American, these efforts are clearly pretty important to me.

Before getting off my soapbox, I offer three further tidbits as food for thought:
(1) While the current administration suggests "ecosystem protection and restoration activities" should be left to the "local and state entities," I can speak from personal experience to confirm that, despite best intentions and full cooperation, Erie County -- where the marsh resides -- has had exactly $0 in cash to contribute to our efforts to date, and the State of Ohio had just $30,000 to invest in FY 2018 for such activities on all private lands in northern Ohio (total!).
(2) Each of us can make a difference by making our voices heard (on this and any other subjects that are important to us);
(3) There should be some solace in knowing that it is unlikely that the 90% program cut being proposed will make it past Congress. With enough voices beating a drum of support, current investment levels should be maintained . . . but we shouldn't take anything for granted. Political representatives are hearing from a growing percentage of their constituents: the health of the Great Lakes does matter and active steps must be taken. If you haven't already, consider reaching out to your relevant politicians to voice the same.

Click to enlarge to read the introductory paragraph and related caption in National Geographic photographer Peter Essick's
article For Health and Habitat: Rescuing the Great Lakes which appears in Undark Magazine this month;
there is also a neat photo of a young hunter taken at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
and a Toledo high school student taking part in a river clean-up