Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 3/27/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was created to coordinate restoration efforts in the region. The GLRI released an Action Plan in 2010, which builds upon the 2005 Great Lakes Region Collaboration Strategy, and is the basis upon which Great Lakes restoration will be planned and budgeted at the federal level. Climate change has been recognized as a major threat to the region and, to the extent possible, will be addressed through different focus areas, including toxics, invasives, pollution, restoration, education, communication, and monitoring.


The Great Lakes contain approximately 20% of the world’s freshwater surface supply and 95% of the surface freshwater in the United States (GLRI 2010). Issues in the region include habitat and species loss from development, water flow alteration, and habitat fragmentation; degraded air and water quality from nonpoint source pollution, legacy contaminants in sediments, and riverine and atmospheric deposition; invasive species establishment; and information gaps that hinder decision making (GLRI 2010); climate change is expected to compound these problems.

In February 2009, President Barack Obama proposed a $475 million budget to create the GLRI; the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force is responsible for implementing the initiative. The Task Force is chaired by the Environmental Protection Agency and supported by the Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Science), Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Department of Defense (Army Corps of Engineers), Department of Health and Human Services (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Coast Guard), Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of the Interior (Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, Geological Survey, National Park Service), Department of State, and Department of Transportation (Federal Highway Administration, Maritime Administration). The Task Force created the GLRI Action Plan to guide restoration activities in the region from 2010-2014. The Action Plan defines restoration as (GLRI 2010):

the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed. For purposes of this Initiative, restoration includes ecosystem protection, enhancement, rehabilitation and remediation. A restored ecosystem is resilient; its chemical, physical, and biological functions and processes provide the requisite conditions for life. A restored ecosystem contains sustainable populations of native plant and animal species and their habitats. Potential threats or further damage have been eliminated or reduced as much as possible and the restored ecosystem is able to withstand future threats.


In 2005, 1500 stakeholders developed the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, which identified and recommended solutions for eight priority issues – Aquatic Invasive Species, Habitat/Species, Coastal Health, Areas of Concern (AOCs)/Sediments, Nonpoint Source, Toxic Pollutants, Indicators and Information, and Sustainable Development. The GLRI Action Plan took these eight issues and condensed them down to five priorities:

  1. Toxic Substances and Areas of Concern
  2. Invasive Species
  3. Nearshore Health and Nonpoint Source Pollution
  4. Habitat and Wildlife Protection and Restoration
  5. Accountability, Education, Monitoring, Evaluation, Communication and Partnerships

Each focus area is further defined with goals, objectives, ecological targets, and specific actions. The GLRI Action Plan is implemented and evaluated by the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force. Those who receive GLRI funding are required to submit reports that measure and evaluate progress on the goals of individual projects as well as the overall goals of the GLRI. All projects may be reviewed by the public through the Great Lakes Accountability System (GLAS); the database allows users to search by focus area, funding recipients, and geography (states, Areas of Concern, or watersheds).

Outcomes and Conclusions

Through the GLRI, the Environmental Protection Agency administers funding on its own and in collaboration with other federal agencies to support restoration efforts in the region. Money is awarded for both federal projects and other projects by non-federal groups that support the goals outlined in the Action Plan. Although climate change is not listed as one of the primary focus areas, the Action Plan states that restoration activities that address the outlined priorities will “increase the resiliency of the ecosystem [and therefore] help the Great Lakes adapt to climate change” (GLRI 2010).

As part of the September 2010 workshop Climate Change in the Great Lakes: Advancing the Regional Discussion, participant comments were solicited on the GLRI and other federal funding programs. Participants recommended that the GLRI incorporate climate change into request for proposals, enhance collaboration and knowledge exchange, integrate adaptation into urban sustainability efforts, and conduct all efforts with both short- and long-term goals in mind (Hinderer et al. 2010). In the 2012 request for proposals, the Environmental Protection Agency listed increasing climate change resilience in Great Lakes communities as one of the primary funding categories, specifically to fund vulnerability assessments and the development and implementation of adaptation plans.


Gregg, R. M. (2012). Great Lakes Restoration Initiative [Case study on a project of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated October 2012)

Affiliated Organizations

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades. A task force of 11 federal agencies developed an action plan to implement the initiative. This action plan covers fiscal years 2010 through 2014 and addresses five urgent issues:

  1. Cleaning up toxics and areas of concern;
  2. Combating invasive species;
  3. Promoting nearshore health by protecting watersheds from polluted run-off;
  4. Restoring wetlands and other habitats; and
  5. Tracking progress and working with strategic partners.