By Brittany Dekorte
In the first days of March, plans for drastic budget cuts to many programs were either announced or leaked from the Trump administration. These proposed cuts, according to an EPA budget document, could include:
- Up to a 97 percent cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration funding.
- A 30 percent cut to state grants for water pollution control and the complete elimination of state grants to beach water quality testing.
These cuts could heavily impact current projects by the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality (MDEQ) according to Richard Hobrla, who works for MDEQ’s Office of the Great Lakes. “Since our state work is completely dependent on federal funding, this would result in the elimination of the state program. We would no longer be able to provide funding or staff support for the areas of concern identified under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. We would no longer have the capacity to participate in the joint work between the U.S. and Canada in developing and implementing ‘Lakewide Action and Management Plans’ for each of the Great Lakes.
“Most of the work of protecting and restoring the Great Lakes would likely fall to non-governmental organizations working on a volunteer basis,” Hobrla said.
Emily Thompson is an instructor at Washtenaw Community College, an adviser for the environmental science program at WCC. She formerly served as WCC’s representative for the water collaboration project, which paired colleges and programs, like MDEQ, to work on quality of life projects.
“The state’s DEQ is in charge of testing water for e. Coli, and post whether or not it’s safe to swim,” Thompson said. “The e. Coli comes mostly from ducks and waterfowl who, well, foul up the water, and that can cause skin infections, possibly worse.”
Thompson mentioned no federal funding for beach testing leaves two main choices: local tax hikes, or going without testing entirely. Without this testing for e. Coli, algae or bacterial plumes, swimmers could risk picking up illnesses associated with these.
Help with pollution
Thompson also expressed a worry that, if the funding cuts go through, it will make it difficult to find funding for Washtenaw County’s 1,4 dioxane plume. The former Gelman Sciences discharged 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogen, into ponds on the company’s property in Scio Township between the 1960s and the 1980s. The chemical has seeped into Washtenaw County’s groundwater in a plume that beneath Ann Arbor’s west side.
In early February, the EPA reported that it would assess whether the contamination might be eligible for money from the agency’s Superfund, a fund set up for cleaning environmental damage.
If the EPA’s funding is cut, and Superfund appropriations are not maintained, this could keep funding from helping with the problem.
Despite the proposed cuts, Hobrla remains hopeful. The Great Lakes Restoration Inititive program has had substantial popular and Congressional support, he said. “A number of senators and congressional Representatives have expressed opposition to the proposed cuts. A number of non-governmental organizations have declared opposition to the cuts,” Horbrla said. “We are optimistic that Congress will listen to these voices and restore funding for the program.”