Canada has pledged a significant increase in spending to improve water quality in the Great Lakes following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, whose administration also has boosted funding for the shared waters.
Following their discussion Friday in Ottawa, Trudeau said his government would spend $420 million — about $306 million in U.S. dollars — over the next decade on the lakes, still suffering from 20th century industrial pollution and newer challenges such as climate change, PFAS chemicals and microplastics.
The announcement came weeks after U.S. Congress members prodded Biden to seek more support for the lakes from Canada, which critics have accused of doing too little.
“The Great Lakes are a source of drinking 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 world’s largest surface freshwater system, providing drinking water for some 40 million people and supporting a regional economy in eight U.S. 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 been updated several times since.
In addition to toxic residues in harbors and river mouths, the lakes are ravaged by invasive species such as quagga mussels, loss of nearshore fish and wildlife habitat, and farm and urban runoff that fuels harmful algae blooms.
The U.S. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, started by President Barack Obama in 2010, has pumped some $4 billion into projects aimed at fixing those problems, with annual spending averaging between $300 million to 400 million.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are pictured in Ottawa, Ontario, on March 24, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
Congress has authorized $425 million for fiscal year 2024. An additional $1 billion from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law will be devoted largely to completing work on longstanding industrial site cleanups.
Canada, meanwhile, had committed just $33 million in U.S. dollars to cleanup efforts between 2017 and 2022.
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In a March 8 letter, nine U.S. House members urged Biden to “emphasize the importance of our binational institutions and investments for the Great Lakes from the Canadian government” during his visit.
Trudeau’s pledge Friday drew praise from those who had pushed for a bigger Canadian contribution.
“This increased funding commitment to help preserve and strengthen the Great Lakes is a welcomed announcement from our neighbors in Canada,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat, said the lakes “are a resource both nations share, and it is incumbent on us all to invest in its health and future.”
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A University of Michigan analysis has found that each $1 spent under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative generated $3.35 across the region and more in some areas.
Canada’s promised increase is “a significant step towards ensuring the longterm health and sustainability of our freshwater resources,” said Gino Moretti, Mayor of Saint-Anicet in Quebec and Vice-Chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which represents waterfront cities in the region.