Canada pledged a significant increase in spending to improve water quality in the Great Lakes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with US President Joe Biden, whose administration also increased funding for shared waters.
After 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, which still suffer from 20th-century industrial pollution and more recent challenges such as climate change, PFAS chemicals and microplastics.
The announcement came weeks after members of the US Congress urged Biden to seek more support for the lakes from Canada, which critics accuse 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. “That’s why Canada will make a major new investment … to continue to protect the Great Lakes for generations to come.”
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The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence are the world’s largest surface freshwater systems, providing drinking water to approximately 40 million people and supporting regional economies in eight US states and two Canadian provinces.
Trudeau’s father, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, signed an agreement with President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 to restore and protect the lake. It has been updated several times since then.
In addition to toxic residues in harbors and estuaries, lakes are ravaged by invasive species such as quagga mussels, loss of coastal fish and wildlife habitat, and farm and urban runoff that encourages harmful algal blooms.
The US Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, launched by President Barack Obama in 2010, has invested about $4 billion in projects aimed at solving those problems, with annual spending averaging between $300 million and $400 million.
Congress has authorized $425 million for fiscal year 2024. An additional $1 billion from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill will be largely dedicated to completing the long-delayed cleanup of industrial sites.
Canada, meanwhile, has committed just US$33 million to cleanup efforts between 2017 and 2022.
In a letter dated March 8, nine members of the US House of Representatives urged Biden to “emphasize the importance of our binational institutions and the Canadian government’s investment in the Great Lakes” during his visit.
Trudeau’s pledge on Friday drew praise from those pushing for greater Canadian input.
“This increased funding to help preserve and strengthen the Great Lakes is a welcome announcement from our neighbors in Canada,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, Republican of Michigan.
Rep. Brian Higgins, Democrat of New York, said the lakes “are a resource shared by both nations, and it’s up to all of us to invest in their health and future.”
A University of Michigan analysis found that every dollar spent on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative generated $3.35 across the region and more in some areas.
Canada’s promised increase is “a significant step toward ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of our freshwater resources,” said Gino Moretti, mayor of Saint-Anicet, Quebec, and vice-president of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence, which represents the coast of cities in the region.