Last week, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, H.R. 3684). Much has been reported on how this bipartisan infrastructure package paves the way for historic investments in roads and bridges, but it is also brings much needed funds to restore the Great Lakes and rebuild failing drinking and wastewater systems. Securing a better future for the birds and people of the Great Lakes region has never been more important. As the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet, the Great Lakes provides drinking water to 40 million people and serve as a global resource to millions of birds.
Out of the $1.2 trillion the Infrastructure Act puts to work, $50 billion goes toward drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to fund things like the removal of lead service lines and addressing PFAS (manmade persistent chemicals) contamination. It will still be important to ensure these investments are implemented in an equitable manner at the state level so that communities who have disproportionately borne the burden of disinvestment and unsafe water get the help that is required to ensure safe and clean water for all.
The bill also includes an unprecedented $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Since 2010 the GLRI has provided federal funding to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and has been critical to Audubon’s efforts to restore functional coastal wetlands across the region.
Coastal habitats of the Great Lakes are disproportionately important for the birds that breed in the rich wetlands and for those that stopover during their bi-annual migrations across the Lakes. Coastal sites are critical for people as much as they are for birds. They represent areas where river mouths and marshes meet the Lakes and where communities were formed to make use of rich natural resources and the ease of waterway transportation. Cleaning up our industrial legacies and creating natural infrastructure that absorbs and cleans water as it enters the Lakes is doing wonders to help recover our declining populations of wildlife, while building a clear path to climate resiliency in the Great Lakes. Threatened bird species such as the Piping Plover and Black Tern are dependent on healthy coastal and wetland systems. Thanks to this investment in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative their future is brighter. The infrastructure bill is a victory for the Great Lakes and the 40 million people AND 350 bird species who depend on them to survive.
The House of Representatives also voted to pass the Build Back Better Act (BBB) last week (H.R. 5376). If passed by the Senate, this package will invest over $550 billion in climate smart practices across lands and waters, advancing environmental justice, and bolster resilience and natural infrastructure solutions in coastal restoration, forest management, and soil conservation.
The infrastructure and reconciliation bills together represent the nation’s largest investment in addressing the causes and impacts of climate change and protecting and restoring the Great Lakes. You can read more in our National Statement here.
Marnie Urso is the Senior Policy Director at Audubon Great Lakes and Co-Chair of the Healing Our Waters Coalition (HOW)