Scientific credibility to underpin Great Lakes cleanup options

30 October 2012

Droplets has carried many reports on North America’s Great Lakes and the threats to these inland seas posed by pollution. ┬áResearch and interventions are the recipients of considerable amounts of state funding – some of which is linked to a pledge made by President Obama.

The University of Michigan is establishing a research program designed to bring more scientific credibility to the federal government’s billion-dollar battle to clean up the Great Lakes, officials said today.

Shortly after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, his administration kicked off the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to begin solving problems that experts said were seriously degrading the system containing nearly one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. Among them: invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, toxic pollution, runoff that causes harmful algae blooms, and shrinking wildlife habitat.

Congress has appropriated more than $1 billion toward the initiative’s first three years, and funding has already been approved for about 700 projects, including efforts to prevent Asian carp, an aggressive invasive species, from reaching the lakes and starving out native fish.

The program has drawn praise from environmental groups, state officials and others who have long warned the Great Lakes are in danger of becoming ecological wastelands. But some of the region’s leading researchers say it should have a stronger scientific foundation to make sure it produces long-term, system-wide solutions, not just temporary fixes in particular locations.

That will be the primary goal of the new University of Michigan Water Center during its initial three-year phase, when it will be supported by grants of $4.5 million each from the university and the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

With budget cuts everywhere, we have to be able to show this money is being well-spent,” said Allen Burton, director of the new program, who also runs the university’s Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecological Research.

More than 20 directors of U.S. and Canadian academic programs focused on the Great Lakes recently called for a more strategic and science-based approach to the restoration effort.

The overall programme includes a training component that will serve to educate new limnologists who will monitor progress over time.  The outcomes will provide proof of concept, not simply that something is being done here and there.

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