In the Great Lakes region, millions of jobs and billions of dollars each year stem from tourism, recreational boating, real estate, commercial and recreational fishing, farming, manufacturing, mining, and energy production.
On Lake Michigan, for example, economic activity contributes more than $49 billion in wages to Michigan workers alone. The state of Michigan generates more than $955 million in coastal tourism income, $3.9 billion in recreational boating revenue, $2 billion from recreational fishing, and $140 million from kayaking and canoeing tourism. Continued improvements to the regional watershed will ensure that the state sees economic payoffs in healthier fish, fewer beach closures, better water quality, and increases in property values.
In one form or another, these industries all rely on the stability and health of the Great Lakes. However, fluctuating water levels threaten the continued economic and ecological well-being of the Great Lakes region, including vital water transportation routes.
In 2014, the Great Lakes recovered from a period of significantly low water levels. According to data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), water levels rose three feet from 2013 to 2014. The surge in water levels provided some relief for the regions’ economies that were impacted by the loss of tourism dollars, real estate taxes, and fishing revenues from previous years. But the rise in water levels also increased concerns about new impacts on ice cover, surface water temperature, evaporation rates, and erosion. The high water levels of the past five years have increased erosion of coastal bluffs, exacerbated the need for dredging, damaged beachfront property, overloaded freshwater pumping facilities, and decreased the volume of sand on beaches.
One effort to combat erosion levels along the Great Lakes calls for increased funding for sand dredging processes through state and federal initiatives such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The GLRI is a coalition of federal agencies that target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes and accelerate progress on toxic substances, invasive species, nonpoint source pollution, and habitat restoration. In addition, residents along the shores of the Great Lakes have initiated community projects, such as native dune planting, which eliminates the rate of sand that is blown away. Michigan has already received $163 million in federal GLRI funding to continue state-based efforts, but continued state and federal leadership is necessary to uphold the unique economic and ecological benefits provided by the Great Lakes.
Published in March, 2017, by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.