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Report: Great Lakes cleanup helpful but needs better way to judge success

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An Obama administration program that has spent more than $1.3 billion on healing the troubled Great Lakes needs a better scorecard for measuring its performance, a government watchdog report released Friday says.

The analysis by the Government Accountability Office does not pass judgment on how well the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working, while acknowledging that federal officials and advocacy groups believe it's making significant progress on pollution cleanup and other problems.

But it says a plan for running the program devised by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments is short on yardsticks for confirming those impressions.

"Without useful measures, EPA may not be able to determine that GLRI efforts are producing the desired results," says the report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

The Obama administration began funding the program in 2010, based on a priority list compiled by state, local and tribal officials, academics and advocacy groups. It's based on scientific findings that the lakes face pervasive threats—primarily invasive species, toxic contamination, runoff from farms and cities, and loss of wildlife habitat—that could devastate fish populations and undermine ecosystems.

The lakes provide drinking water to more than 30 million people and are an economic pillar for eight states and two Canadian provinces.

The initiative has funded more than 1,700 projects, from wetland restorations to removal of contaminated sediments from harbors and river mouths. It has supported the fight to ward off Asian carp—ravenous fish that have infested the Mississippi River and are moving toward the lakes.

Some scientists say the program has devoted too little money to basic research and monitoring needed to make sure the hands-on projects serve broad goals as well as local needs. The GAO report appears to echo those concerns.

"We recognize the potentially significant contributions that individual GLRI projects can make to resolving specific environmental and public health stresses that threaten the Great Lakes," it says. "However, we believe that these contributions need to be viewed in the context of larger factors affecting the Great Lakes" so strategies can be developed "to help ensure the best possible outcome."

Achieving the program's goals could be hampered by factors beyond its control, such as climate change and substandard infrastructure that allows polluted wastewater and storm runoff to reach the lakes, the report said.

Susan Hedman, EPA's Great Lakes National Program Manager, told the GAO in a letter that her agency agrees with most of its findings.

Hedman said a management plan for the next five-year phase of the program, scheduled to begin in 2015, will include more progress measurements and take climate change into greater account. But linking broad environmental change to any specific project is difficult, she said.

When the program began four years ago, there was such a huge backlog of cleanup projects that monitoring was less of a priority, said Todd Ambs, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, which lobbies for continued funding.

"We know now that it's money well spent and producing great site-specific results," Ambs said. "So now is a good time to tie those results together with broader measurements of how these investments are affecting the overall health of the Great Lakes basin."
 

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  1. Really, taking someone managing the regulation of Alcohol and making himthe President of an IVY Tech regional campus. Does he have an education background?

  2. Jan, great rant. Now how about you review the report and offer rebuttal of the memo. This might be more conducive to civil discourse than a wild rant with no supporting facts. Perhaps some links to support your assertions would be helpful

  3. I've lived in Indianapolis my whole and been to the track 3 times. Once for a Brickyard, once last year on a practice day for Indy 500, and once when I was a high school student to pick up trash for community service. In the past 11 years, I would say while the IMS is a great venue, there are some upgrades that would show that it's changing with the times, just like the city is. First, take out the bleachers and put in individual seats. Kentucky Motor Speedway has individual seats and they look cool. Fix up the restrooms. Add wi-fi. Like others have suggested, look at bringing in concerts leading up to events. Don't just stick with the country music genre. Pop music would work well too I believe. This will attract more young celebrities to the Indy 500 like the kind that go to the Kentucky Derby. Work with Indy Go to increase the frequency of the bus route to the track during high end events. That way people have other options than worrying about where to park and paying for parking. Then after all of this, look at getting night lights. I think the aforementioned strategies are more necessary than night racing at this point in time.

  4. Talking about congestion ANYWHERE in Indianapolis is absolutely laughable. Sure you may have to wait in 5 minutes of traffic to travel down BR avenue during *peak* times. But that is absolutely nothing compared to actual big cities. Indy is way too suburban to have actual congestion problems. So please, never bring up "congestion" as an excuse to avoid development in Indianapolis. If anything, we could use a little more.

  5. Oh wait. Never mind.

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