LORAIN, Ohio — In his visit to Lorain Thursday, President Joe Biden announced $1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law will be going towards speeding up the cleaning and restoration of critical waterways in the Great Lakes that the EPA has designated as "areas of concern" or AOCs, of which there are 25 on the Great Lakes.
“For decades there was a lot of talk, a lot of plans but very little progress, it was slow. That changes today, today we’re announcing an investment of $1 billion," President Biden said. Money that will soon be put to work cleaning those waterways. “Dredging polluted sentiment restoring wetlands and habitat its making the water safer for swimming and fishing and drinking providing habitats for wildlife and wild fowl.”
Northeast Ohio has had three rivers that are classified as AOCs: the Black River in Lorain, the Cuyahoga River and the Ashtabula River, which just last summer was delisted by the EPA after a 33-year, $67.5 million cleanup. That cleanup removed 14,000 pounds of cancer-causing PCP’s and enough hazardous sediment to fill 350 football fields a foot thick.
The additional funds will go into the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and be on top of their regular funding, funding that in the past has faced near elimination. For three years in the Trump administration, funding for the EPA was cut as late as 2019 by a third, with the GLRI faced with a 90% cut. Those monies were eventually restored thanks to a bi-partisan effort by Great Lakes members of Congress, including outgoing Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).
“This is great news for Ohio. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has provided nearly $3 billion for more than 6,000 projects in Ohio and throughout the Great Lakes Basin, helping address the greatest threats facing Lake Erie and the Great Lakes, such as Areas of Concern, harmful algal blooms, invasive species, pollution, and habitat degradation,” Portman said in a statement. “Lake Erie provides clean drinking water for millions of Ohioans and is a key part of the economy for many Ohio communities by supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and attracting millions of visitors to the region each year. Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, this additional $1 billion for the GLRI will go a long way in strengthening our Great Lakes preservation and restoration efforts.”
The Great Lakes account for about 20% of the world’s freshwater supply. In Ohio alone, there are 25 public water systems that draw their freshwater from Lake Erie, servicing about a quarter of the state’s population. Because Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes, it is most susceptible to challenges caused by pollutants. In addition, while it only has 2%of the water in the Great Lakes, it is home to 50% of the fish.
President Biden highlighted the economic activity that historically has followed these cleanups while visiting the Black River waterfront. Studies have shown that every $1 invested in cleanup generates $3 to $4 in new economic activity. Lake Erie already accounts for $15 billion in economic activity a year in Ohio.
The Black River watershed drains into Lake Erie near the city of Lorain. The EPA’s website says the Black River was once nicknamed the “river of fish tumors” due to its long history of industrial, agricultural, and urban uses, which led to poor water quality, loss of biodiversity, habitat degradation, and sedimentation. It has been listed as an Area of Concern since 1987.