The Great Lakes and Our Economy

Author: Andrew Dodson

Preserving the Great Lakes helps the economy, and there’s still plenty of work to be done

Preservation and restoration of the Great Lakes has this incredible ripple effect on a community.

And a team of economists have the data to back it up.

In September, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) published a study that showed every federal dollar spent on projects by the nonprofit group nets $3.35 in additional economic activity through the year 2036.

Additionally, the study, led by a University of Michigan research team, found that every GLRI project dollar spent generates an extra $1.62 for tourism. Residents who live on or near the lakes realize an additional $1.08 in general quality of life improvements.

From 2010 to 2017, Congress has appropriated about $2.5 billion in Great Lakes restoration projects, which means more than $8.3 billion has been realized in extra economic activity.

That’s a lot of money going toward a lot of projects — more than 402,000 pounds of phosphorus have been prevented from running into the lakes and more than 180,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat have been protected.

But there’s still plenty more to be done. Here are three big issues facing the Great Lakes today:

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance — known as PFAS — has contaminated dozens of water systems across Michigan and the Great Lakes and has triggered the government to declare states of emergencies in two Michigan communities. Scientists have described PFAS as the “most insidious pollutant since PCBs,” according to MLive reports.

Exposure to PFAS can increase risk for cancer and other serious issues.

After initially ignoring a federal report warning of the contamination, a Michigan PFAS team has been assembled to deal with the issue.

Rising water temperatures
Since 1980, the average surface temperature of Lake Michigan has risen about 3 degrees and is expected to continue rising. Annual ice coverage of the Great Lakes decreased 71 percent between 1973 and 2010, according to the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments.

One of the biggest issues with warmer water is invasive species. Certain invasive fish that do better in warmer water have higher metabolism, which helps them compete against native fish.

Line 5
The 60-year-old oil line runs the risk of leaking and causing extensive damage in the Great Lakes.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in October signed an agreement to move forward with a plan to construct a tunnel that will encase part of the line. The idea is that if the line leaks, the tunnel should catch it and prevent spreading in the lakes.

Activists say the government is rolling the dice, however, arguing the tunnel will take too long to construct.

A worst case scenario developed by Michigan Technological University showed that Line 5 could spread as much as 2.4 million gallons of oil into the Great Lakes, causing $1.86 billion in damages.

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