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WOOD: Everybody loves a bargain, but not at the expense of destroying the Great Lakes

• Mar 17, 2017 at 1:00 PM

I recently attended a store closing sale for a well-known retailer that has been a staple on the American shopping scene for more than 100 years. I used to buy tools there as a kid with my father, and I bet a lot of you reading this have those same tools in your garage or workshop.

In spite of the event feeling a bit like a funeral, I was undoubtedly excited to pick up a chainsaw and a new leaf blower (both electric) for 75 percent off. Like most of us, I enjoy getting a great deal, even if there might be a little bit of pain behind the reason for the deal. I know I’ll never shop at this store again (at least not in Grand Rapids), but I should be good on hand and power tools for at least a decade.

There are times, however, that the deal is truly bad, no matter how great the savings. This is the case with the current proposal to cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding from $300 million to total elimination, according to the proposed budget released Thursday.

For my organization, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, GLRI funding has helped us develop Rainwater Rewards and our stormwater calculator, an online tool that can be used by municipalities and developers in the Great Lakes Basin to determine how much pollution they can prevent from reaching the Great Lakes (and how much money they can save) by including development techniques like porous pavement and bioswales in their upfront designs.

Elsewhere, groups like Trout Unlimited partner on GLRI grants to combat invasive species like sea lamprey and Asian carp. Funds from the GLRI help make sure that Michigan’s rivers, streams and lakes continue to attract anglers from all over America, thus ensuring that our tourism economy remains robust. GLRI funding has helped combat algal blooms on Lake Erie, as well. It’s frightening to think of cutting funding to a program that helps guarantee clean drinking water for millions of citizens.

GLRI funding has been used for innovative programs all over Michigan. From fish monitoring to reducing mercury in our waterways to protecting our coastal dunes, GLRI even funded a Grand Haven-specific project — the “Beach Information Communications System” collected information about rip current news, bacterial monitoring, harmful algal blooms, and weather and water forecasts in one place for beachgoers.

By the time you read this, I will have spent two days in Washington, D.C., discussing the importance of fully funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to Republican and Democrat legislators from our great state. Not everyone is fortunate enough to discuss issues they are passionate about with politicians as part of their job, but you can call or write to your Michigan legislators and implore them to stand up against drastic budget cuts to the GLRI.

It’s understandable that budget cuts are necessary, and that as a country, we need to tighten our belts a bit and start saving instead of spending. Proposals to slash the budget for a program as vital to our way of life as the GLRI are misguided. Keeping our water clean and healthy isn’t a partisan issue — it’s common sense for Pure Michigan and for keeping our Great Lakes great.

— By Bill Wood, executive director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council

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