You are here

Healthy Waters Strong Economy, The benefits of Restoring the Great Lakes Systems

September 2007

John Austin, Soren Anderson, Paul Courant, Robert Litan


The Great Lakes accounts for 90% of the United States and 20% of the worlds surface fresh water. It has a direct impact on 35 million people and provides both drinking water and commercial transportation. However, the Great Lakes has been facing numerous threats. This article outlines restoration strategies, cost of cleaning and preserving the lakes, the economic benefits of keeping our lakes healthy, along with policy implications. ! Throughout the years the Midwest has gone from agricultural and industrial to a global knowledge economy in which the lakes are a valuable resource. In 2004, the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, which was a 26 billion dollar federal state plan for cleaning and preserving the Great Lakes, was created. Some of the major elements were enhancing coastal health, such as improving wastewater facilities and accurate testing to determine when beach water is safe. Treating areas of concerns by 2020, reducing non-point contamination sources, particularly damaged wetlands and tributaries and restoring both urban and rural areas. Reducing the level of toxic pollutants, ensure sustainability of streams and rivers. Prevent invasive species and halt existing ones and develop a system of indicators and information, which means creating a series of measures at collecting, analyzing, and increasing the involvement of universities. ! Economic benefits of restoring the Great Lakes will lead to 11.8 billion dollars from tourism, fishing and recreation alone. It will raise coastal property values to 19 billion dollars once areas of concerns are restored. The reduction of sedimentation will lower water treatment cost for municipalities by 125 million dollars and will attract more businesses and workers since a study showed that people are willing to pay more to live in areas with high environmental quality. So overall, the total costs in restoring our lakes is around 26 billion dollars with a direct economic benefit of 50 billion dollars. So far, some elements have moved around through Congress and measures like sewage treatment upgrades, keeping Asian and silver carp out of lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act has been passed.

Read Now

Policy Implications

First policy implication, is for policymakers to understand the economic significance in investing in our lakes. Implementing all parts of the GLRC Strategy and providing the 26 billion dollars would be the first step. By waiting, our lakes will continue to deteriorate, costing restoration more in the future. Second, would be for federal, state, local, and tribal policymakers working together to support developing freshwater protection, treatment, and energy conservation technologies due to the concern of limited freshwater resources and energy conservation for heating, cooling, and growing food.

Find Similar Energy Research
Find Similar Environment Research