Thought Leadership

Great Lakes Restoration Funding: Know and Share Your Goals to Get Results

September 7, 2023

Barge Cleaning Up Sediment on the Milwaukee River

By Cam Davis – Vice President, GEI

This is the third blog in a five-part series.

In Part 2 of this series, we looked at when Great Lakes restoration funding began to get serious. This started in 2009 when President Barack Obama proposed, and a bipartisan Congress funded, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Now let’s discuss how to access the funding now available through the GLRI.Brief description of Great Lakes Areas of Concern

The time has never been better to do great work for the Great Lakes in large part because the funding has never been better. Great Lakes programs hovered at $15 million per year some 25 years ago; once Congressional funding for the Great Lakes Legacy Act kicked in, in the mid-2000s, $50 million per year more went to Area of Concern cleanups. With the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative’s creation in FY2010, that amount skyrocketed, leveling out at some $300 million per year. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) contributed another $200 million per year.

Accessing these funds requires an understanding of what priorities will be funded in the first place. All of this funding is intended to accelerate the region’s efforts to make the ecosystem more resilient. In turn, the GLRI Action Plan reflects the region’s key resilience priorities and guides all federal investments to achieve them. That work is divided into five “focus areas.”

These focus areas have remained constant since the program’s inception in 2010, providing project proponents support for work that addresses AOCs, preventing and controlling invasive species, reducing nutrient pollution from agricultural and other lands that fertilizes downstream toxic algae blooms, revitalizing native habitat and the species that rely on them, and finally, supporting work that will lay the groundwork for future restoration (e.g., education efforts, collaborations, etc.).

Bar graph of Grate Lakes Funding

Each focus area is further defined by “commitments,” “objectives,” and finally, “measures of progress” or MOPs. Thinking of this like a triangle, at its base, the MOPs are annual deliverables allowing Congress to track whether the region is following through on its obligations. Those MOPs implement objectives, the next level up in the triangle. The objectives further allow for the implementation of commitments and, if the region follows through on all its commitments, the long-term goals of the GLRI—the apex of the triangle—will be achieved. Congress most closely watches the MOPs because they’re quantifiable on an annual basis, so it can see whether the agencies are delivering results as planned. As such, any potential applicant for funding should think about these steps:

Graph showing Five Focus Areas of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Step 1: This is the fun part. Think about what you want to do to help restore the ecosystem.

Step 2: Identify which funding pathway fits your needs best. Are you a farmer wanting funds to help reduce your nutrient footprint to make a nearby tributary’s water quality better? Are you a land trust wanting to help restore habitat on your property? Are you a civic organization helping to strengthen environmental justice or tree planting opportunities in your neighborhood? This matters because funds are distributed in different ways to advance different needs.

Step 3: Understand how your projects are funded because different projects are funded in different ways. Some agencies provide funding through requests for applications (RFAs). Some require applications but with different levels of effort. Other agencies don’t fund public efforts but perform the work themselves.

Still, knowing what you want to do matters. For example:

Pay particular attention to deadlines and start well ahead of time. You don’t have to wait until the announcement of an RFA or Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to conceptualize your idea and reach out to the relevant agency official to run it by them for prospective future funding.

This overview focused on the current priorities that have been in place for over a decade. With a new Action Plan expected in September 2024, what’s likely to change? Will partisan politics and other cross currents make funding more difficult for you to access? Check out my next post, Part 4. And as always, if you want help getting an application ready for funding, send me an email.

Revisit my previous blogs  in this series: