AOCs, BUIs, PACs, RAPs and GLRI: The alphabet soup of Great Lakes Restoration

Cleaning up pollution and restoring the Great Lakes is not an easy or quick process, but progress is being made thanks to the hard work of many individuals, local groups and state and federal agencies.

This is the first in a series of articles highlighting Great Lakes restoration projects in Michigan Areas of Concern.

Article Two

The Great Lakes are a vital component of Michigan’s economy and are fundamental to our state’s history and identity. Indeed, they form the very shape our state! They contain 20% of the world’s supply of fresh surface water and support a growing tourism industry, including recreational fishing, wildlife viewing and boating. However, portions of the lakes are threatened by toxic contaminants, failing sewage infrastructure, invasive species and a lack of coordinated conservation efforts. In 2009,Michigan Sea Grant convened a panel of scientists who identified and quantified the economic benefits of restoring the Great Lakes. The subsequent report estimates the economic benefit to Michigan could be $7-13 billion.1

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States identified 43 geographic areas in the Great Lakes Basin (including 14 in Michigan) where changes in the chemical, physical or biological integrity of the water resulted in severe environmental degradation. Since 1987, these Areas of Concern (AOCs) have been the focus of cleanups throughout the Great Lakes in an effort to restore Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs), such as restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption, beach closures and drinking water restrictions.  

Initially, progress appeared slow because much of the work entailed forming Public Advisory Councils (PACs) and developing science-based Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) to identify pollution sources and design science-based restoration actions. Today, with plans in place and funding through programs such as the Great Lakes Legacy Act andGreat Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), on-the-ground projects are underway and progress is becoming more evident. The Great Lakes Legacy Act has removed 1.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments from 18 AOCs, including three in Michigan. The GLRI has resulted in over 700 restoration projects including 215 in Michigan, many of them cleaning up our AOCs. These efforts have made our waters more fishable and swimmable, allowing more communities to take advantage of the increase in tourism to our state.

To date, 27 BUIs have been removed, one AOC has had all management actions needed for delisting (that is, formal removal from the list of Great Lakes AOCs) and several others are in the final stages of remedial actions. TheEPA projects that by 2014 a minimum of five AOCs will be in recovery and over 40 BUIs will be removed.

Mary Bohling is currently serving as chair of Michigan’s Statewide Public Advisory Council, formed in 1991 to facilitate public participation in decisions affecting Michigan’s AOC program, heighten public awareness of and participation in cleanup plans for the AOCs, and generate public support for implementation of restoration and protection measures in the AOCs. The Council is supported by the Great Lakes Commission with funding from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Future articles will detail progress and achievements taking place in specific Michigan’s AOCs.

For more info about the Great Lakes restoration process and the Statewide Public Advisory Council, contact Mary Bohling at 313-410-9431.

This article was co-authored by Mary Bohling, Sea Grant Extension Educator and Matt Doss, Policy Director at the Great Lakes Commission.

1. Michigan’s Economic Vitality: The Benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes. Michigan Sea Grant. February 2009.

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