Leaked U.S. funding slash for Great Lakes cleanup reverberating in Hamilton

Leaked U.S. funding slash for Great Lakes cleanup reverberating in Hamilton

Leaked documents from the U.S. government outlining a proposed 97 per cent funding cut for Great Lakes restoration has Hamilton environmental advocates worried.

"This is craziness," said Environment Hamilton Executive Director Lynda Lukasik. "Absolutely this is a concern. It's huge. This is ridiculous."

Hamilton Harbour is one of the Great Lakes "Areas of Concern" that the Canadian and American governments have for decades committed to cleaning up. Cuts to U.S. programs could have implications for the state of the harbour. 

The Detroit Free Press recently reported The Trump administration's potential cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which would slash annual funding for the $300 million program down to $10 million.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Obama-led initiative was the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades.

The U.S. initiative combats invasive species, curbs nutrient-fueled algae blooms, cleans up toxic messes and restores sensitive fish and wildlife habitat — which have all been significant issues in Hamilton's harbour restoration. 

Considering the Great Lakes are an integral part of Hamilton's ecosystem, funding cuts across the border could affect the city's efforts as well, Lukasik says.

The city's urban drinking water comes out of Lake Ontario.

"We are all living with this watershed, so these kinds of shifts in U.S. funding affect us too," Lukasik said.

Rolling back Obama initiative

To get an idea of just how deep that funding cut runs, just consider Hamilton's Randle Reef remediation project, tackling toxic sediments, which finally got underway last year. The cost for that program alone is pegged at just under $139 million.

"Just look at Randle Reef," Lukasik said. "Where would $10 million get us?"

This leaked reports comes just as the Trump administration indefinitely delayed a plan for strengthening defences on a crucial Chicago-area waterway to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, where scientists say they could cause severe harm to native fish populations throughout the lakes. Restoring native fish species has been a goal of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan.

Chris McLaughlin, executive director of the Bay Area Restoration Council, told CBC News that he hopes the Canadian government will pump more funding into the Great Lakes in response.

"It's an opportunity for governments here to step up even further," he said.

It's also important to note, McLaughlin said, that for several years, Canadian funding for the Great Lakes has been far eclipsed by its U.S. counterpart. This move, he says, would bring the U.S. back in line with funding seen in Canada in recent years.

Lagging Canadian funding

A comparison is the Canadian Great Lakes Sustainability Fund (GLSF), which supports projects that clean up each of Canada's 12 remaining Areas of Concern or "degraded areas" within the Great Lakes Basin.

The GLSF contributed around $23 million to improve water quality in those areas from 2006 to 2015, according to the Government of Canada. Those numbers don't however, consider projects like Randle Reef's cleanup.

McLaughlin says that in the past, the Harper government was criticized for not stepping up in the face of greater funding coming from the U.S., and that he hopes that will change under the current government.

He said it's also important to note that there's a possibility that the U.S. government could be "floating trial balloons of all kinds" out there about funding cuts to "gauge public reaction."

"Maybe this is intended to make us all feel lucky if in the end, [funding] is only cut by 50 per cent," he said.