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Good things happening on the Great LakesCelebrating Clean Water

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Enter our annual Great Lakes photo contest - and see your winning image featured in our beautiful full-color calendar given out at the Wisconsin State Fair. The submission deadline is Feb. 1, 2014. See contest rules

Fast Facts

Great Lakes, Global Treasures

  • One-fifth of the world's fresh surface water supply
  • A surface area of 94,000 square miles and a volume large enough to cover the lower 48 states 9.5 feet deep.
  • Home to 30 million people--10 percent of the U.S. population and 25 percent of Canada's
  • Foundation for agriculture, industrial manufacturing, steel production, shipping, commercial and sport fisheries, and recreation and tourism.
  • Supports U.S. fisheries that generate $7.2 billion annually and support 49,000 jobs.

Wisconsin's Great Lakes

  • More than 1,000 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior
  • Half of Wisconsin's population of 5.7 million people lives in the basin
  • Provides drinking water for more than 1.6 million Wisconsinites
  • Support a $9.4 billion annual recreational boating industry
  • Lake Michigan reigns as Wisconsin's top fishing destination
  • More about Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior

Progress on the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes region has come a long way since the Cuyahoga River caught fire (or closer to home, since Milwaukee's Lincoln Creek caught fire) in the later half of the 20th century. The landmark federal Clean Water Act of 1972 led to significant improvements in water quality. Over the past generation, federal, state and local public and private investments have been restoring habitat along waterways and tackling historic pollution buried deep in sediments in harbors and rivers.

"Sustained governmental and public efforts have measurably improved Great Lakes water quality," concluded the International Joint Commission in its recent review of changes to the Great Lakes over the past 25 years.

An historic investment aims to accelerate progress

Work to clean up and restore the Great Lakes has accelerated under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest investment in the lakes in two decades. Altogether, Congress allocated $475 million in the first year and an additional $300 million in each of the next two years for projects addressing toxic substances; invasive species; nonpoint source pollution; habitat protection and restoration; or accountability, monitoring, evaluation, communication and partnership building.

Good things are happening in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, local governments, nonprofit organizations, University of Wisconsin System researchers, DNR and others have received nearly $180 million in federal GLRI funds for more than 180 protection, restoration, and sediment cleanup projects. The funding has allowed partners to start new projects and accelerate others to benefit Wisconsin citizens, the environment and the economy.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects

View more Great Lakes videos

River and harbor cleanups underway

Great Lakes rivers and harbors that have been most severely affected by historic pollution and habitat loss are labeled as "Areas of Concern," or AOCs, in need of special attention. Wisconsin has five Areas of Concern and in 2012 and 2013, cleanup and restoration projects were underway in all of them.

Read more about the progress: