WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2014 – The federal government today unveiled the second phase of an inter-agency action plan designed to protect and restore the health of the Great Lakes, the largest system of fresh surface water in the world.

For agriculture, the new, five-year action plan for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) will focus on curbing nutrient runoff, specifically through phosphorous reduction. Under the first action plan, GLRI connected federal agencies to projects that received financial and technical assistance to implement conservation programs that reduced runoff and cut down soil erosion. In August, nutrient runoff in Lake Erie was cited as one of the causes of an algal blooms that endangered drinking water in Toledo, Ohio.

The new action plan, Action Plan II, will continue many of the projects already under way, but will focus on increasing voluntary conservation practices such as planting cover crops, rotating crops and installing filter strips, according to the EPA. The goal is to increase phosphorus reductions from GLRI-funded projects in targeted watersheds by more than 1 million pounds in 2019.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010, and its first action plan funded more than 2,000 projects to improve water quality and address other problems dealing with the Great Lakes environmental system. Now, Action Plan II will continue the work of the first action plan and run from FY 2015-2019.

“The new Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan lays out the steps we need to take to get us closer to the day when all Great Lakes fish will be safe to eat, all beaches will be safe for swimmers and harmful algal blooms will not threaten our drinking water supplies,” EPA chief Gina McCarthy said today at a meeting of the Great Lakes Mayors in Chicago where the plan was unveiled.  McCarthy chairs the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the action plan is “the largest conservation initiative in American history,” with more farmers taking action to preserve clean land and water than ever before.

“We're proud to partner with farmers and the many others engaged in voluntary efforts to restore the health of the Great Lakes,” he said. The lakes – Erie, Michigan, Huron, Superior and Ontario – provide drinking water to 30 million Americans.

Already , resources from the GLRI have been used to double the acreage enrolled in agricultural conservation programs in watersheds where phosphorous runoff contributes to algal blooms in western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay, the government said.

Under the first action plan, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service was involved in projects that included working with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan to open 70 miles of rivers and streams for fish passage. The agency also helped the Chicago Park District restore and protect 17 acres of beachfront park to combat land-based invasive species that were out-competing the desired plants that would hold the soil in place. NRCS also worked with the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force to combat phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie. 

The government task force includes 17 different cabinet departments or agencies.


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