Fresh, April 4, 2023: Canadian Government Pledges Increased Funding for Great Lakes

April 4, 2023

Fresh is a biweekly newsletter from Circle of Blue that unpacks the biggest international, state, and local policy news stories facing the Great Lakes region today. Sign up for Fresh: A Great Lakes Policy Briefing, straight to your inbox, every other Tuesday.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Fresh Editor

This Week’s Watersheds

  • A new bill introduced in the Ohio House would prevent the removal of oil and natural gas from beneath Lake Erie
  • An invasive freshwater algae called starry stonewort is spreading throughout southeast Wisconsin.
  • Following meetings between President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada’s government pledges increased spending on the Great Lakes.
  • A decision on Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline tunnel will be delayed until at least 2026.

Eight bodies were discovered in the St. Lawrence River in Akwesasne, a Mohawk territory along the Canada-U.S. border known for its complex geopolitical status and, increasingly, migrant crossings.

“Our community has been exploited by this. This is not the first time that tragedy has happened in our community like this. We’ve had other losses.” — Abram Benedict, grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

Jurisdiction of the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk) territory of Akwesasne is shared three ways — a council elected by the Canadian government, a council elected by the U.S. government, and a government affiliated with the Haudenosaunee, more commonly known as the Iroquois. Also split by the Ontario-Quebec border, and the state of New York just to the east, Akwesasne’s sovereignty faces numerous legal and political obstacles

Because the governance of these traditional Mohawk homelands is so complex, Akwesasne — and the St. Lawrence River which runs through it — has become a major hotspot for border crossings, the Guardian reports. But crossing the river here, most often from Canada into the United States, is dangerous when inclement weather creates large waves, as was the case last week, when eight people died amid high winds and tall waves.

Fresh from the Great Lakes News Collaborative

  • Frogs, salamanders, and fairy shrimp are appearing at a vernal pool near you — Michigan Radio
  • America’s bats are dying. A Michigan dam may hold a key to their survival — Bridge Michigan
  • Some banned pesticides fade from Great Lakes air, while others persist — Great Lakes Now

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader. We work together to produce news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work here.

Canada Pledges an Increase in Great Lakes Spending

Weeks after a bipartisan group of regional lawmakers urged President Biden to ask the Canadian government for more funding for Great Lakes projects, Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to spend about $306 million US dollars on the lakes over the next decade. 

Between 2017 and 2022, Canada spent just $33 million US dollars on Great Lakes cleanup efforts, compared to U.S. annual spending of between $300 million and $400 million. That discrepancy prompted the U.S. Senate’s Great Lakes Task Force to call for greater Canadian investment. 

Investing in the Great Lakes pays off. Not only are they the world’s largest freshwater system, providing drinking water for 40 million people; their protection is also good business. Research shows that for every $1 dollar spent under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, $3.35 is generated.

U.S. spending will continue at a high rate over the next year. “Congress has authorized $425 million for fiscal year 2024. An additional $1 billion from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law will be devoted largely to completing work on longstanding industrial site cleanups,” Minnesota Public Radio reports.

In the News

HOUSE BILL 43: A new bill, recently introduced in the Ohio House, would prevent the removal of oil and natural gas from underneath Lake Erie, ABC News 5 Cleveland reports. The legislation prioritizes environmental conservation, countering the state’s fossil fuel boom. Another bill, which will soon go into effect, will permit oil fracking on state land; meanwhile, as Ohio looks to ramp up its natural gas industry, four million cubic feet of gas were recently found beneath its great lake. Lake Erie environmentalists have shown support for the proposed legislation, while representatives of the oil and gas industries continue to assert that technological advancements will keep resource extraction safe. According to NOAA, there have already been 37 official oil spills across the country so far this year.  

ENBRIDGE LINE 5: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delayed the release of an environmental impact statement for Enbridge’s proposed Line 5 tunnel by a year and a half, the Sarnia Observer reports. This delay pushes a final decision on the project to 2026 — a disappointing holdup for the Ontario government and construction unions, who favor the pipeline for the jobs it supports. In late 2020 Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked an easement which allowed Enbridge to run Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac — a decision Indigenous communities have been fighting for years — setting off legal and political fireworks ever since.

Looking Ahead

STARRY STONEWORT: An invasive species of freshwater algae called starry stonewort is being increasingly identified in lakes and rivers throughout southeastern Wisconsin, Kenosha News reports. The plant, which grows in dense, green, water-topping mats, “can overtake waterbeds and outcompete native aquatic plants, potentially lowering diversity and reducing the overall health of aquatic ecosystems,” according to Kenosha News. Experts hypothesize that starry stonewort is more widespread in Great Lakes waters than we know. 

Upcoming Events

April 14-16 — Society for Ecological Restoration, Midwest-Great Lakes Annual Chapter Meeting — learn more and register 

April 21-23 — Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach Spring Kickoff — learn more 

April 22 — Latino Outdoors Great Lakes Earth Day Cleanup — learn more

April 26 — Freshwater Science: Lake Erie Charter Captains Business Survey — learn more and register

Other News

RECOVERING AMERICA’S WILDLIFE ACT: The reintroduced bipartisan bill would devote $1.4 billion for the conservation of at-risk species, Michigan Radio reports

FISH CONSUMPTION ADVISORIES: As concerns over PFAS rise, state governments’ “oversimplifying or overstating” of consumption risks are putting Indigenous lifeways at risk, Wisconsin Watch reports

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