A leaked federal budget memo reveals that the Trump administration is considering cutting funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million to $10 million.
This cut would affect not only the wellness of the Great Lakes but also the students who work in the water testing labs at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The university’s water labs do edge-of-field monitoring for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. This monitoring checks run-offs from agricultural fields in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and New York.
Bill DeVita, lab manager of the Water and Environmental Analysis Lab, said Stevens Point is the only university in Wisconsin doing this work on this large of a scale.
For the past three years, the lab has been testing samples from these watersheds to establish a baseline of nutrients in run-off. The next phase of testing will be three years of monitoring run-off under different agricultural practices.
“If they cut the funding off at this point, the whole project is all for naught because there’s not going to be any evidence for improvement,” DeVita said.
These cuts would also affect the students who gain valuable experience working in the water lab.
Thirty to forty percent of the lab’s revenue comes directly from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. With the budget cut, DeVita said the lab would have to reduce its staff.
The experience working in the labs doing real-world work has been invaluable for students, giving them the skills necessary to find jobs in their field upon graduation.
Laura Risser, senior biology major, said “I think we would have a lot less work to do . . . that would cut down all of the work we have and it’s really sad because we need people to be monitoring the run-off that’s going into the Great Lakes.”
The run-off in these watersheds contain nutrients and suspended sediment which will flow into the Great Lakes, causing algae blooms. High algae bloom levels can make water un-drinkable.
In 2014 dangerously high levels of algae blooms in Lake Erie left 500,000 people without water.
The university’s water labs help monitor the nutrient flooded run-off that causes these blooms.
In response to potential cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Sarah Hull, UWSP graduate and research specialist, said, “The Great Lakes already have issues with blue-green algae, they’re already struggling they need all the help they can get.”
Olivia De Valk