Canada pledged a significant increase in spending to improve water quality in the Great Lakes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with US President Joe Biden, whose administration also increased funding for shared waters.
After their Friday discussion in Ottawa, Trudeau said his government would spend $420 million — about $306 million — over the next decade on the lakes, which still suffer from 20th-century industrial pollution and new challenges. such as climate change, PFAS chemicals and microplastics.
The announcement came weeks after US congressmen pressed Biden to seek more support for the lakes from Canada, which critics accused of doing too little.
“The Great Lakes are a source of clean water for 40 million people and this shared resource needs to be protected,” Trudeau said. “This is why Canada will make a major new investment… to continue safeguarding the Great Lakes for generations to come.”
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are the largest surface freshwater system in the world, providing drinking water to approximately 40 million people and supporting a regional economy in eight US states and two Canadian provinces.
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Trudeau’s father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, signed an agreement with President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 to restore and protect the lakes. It has since been updated several times.
In addition to toxic residues in harbors and river mouths, lakes are ravaged by invasive species such as quagga mussels, loss of nearshore fish and wildlife habitat, and agricultural and urban runoff fueling algal blooms harmful.
The US Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, started by President Barack Obama in 2010, has invested about $4 billion in projects aimed at solving these problems, with an average annual spending of between $300 million and $400 million.
Congress has authorized $425 million for fiscal 2024. An additional $1 billion from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill will be devoted largely to completing long-standing industrial site cleanup work.
Canada, meanwhile, had committed just US$33 million to cleanup efforts between 2017 and 2022.
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In a March 8 letter, nine US House members urged Biden to “highlight the importance of our institutions and the Canadian government’s binational investment to the Great Lakes” during his visit.
Trudeau’s effort on Friday was praised by those who had been pushing for a larger Canadian contribution.
“This increased funding commitment to help preserve and strengthen the Great Lakes is a welcome announcement by our neighbors in Canada,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Republican from Michigan.
Representative Brian Higgins, a Democrat from New York, said the lakes “are an asset shared by both nations, and it’s our duty to invest in its health and future.”
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An analysis by the University of Michigan found that every $1 spent under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative generated $3.35 across the region and more in some areas.
Canada’s pledged increase is “a significant step in ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of our freshwater resources,” said Gino Moretti, mayor of Saint-Anicet in Quebec and vice president of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which represents the region’s waterfront cities.