Defense Media Network

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative [Building Strong® 2020-2021]

Making the Great Lakes Great

BY ANDREW KORNACKI, Buffalo District

Facilitating economic growth, improving quality of life, and increasing the environmental health of the nation are key foundational components of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) mission.

Through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), USACE is one of 16 federal agencies participating in the administration’s initiative to protect and restore the world’s largest freshwater system. The program, which originated in 2010, has already made significant strides in cleaning up areas of concern (AOCs), stopping the spread of invasive species, and restoring fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Great Lakes watershed.

The partnerships between federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the program, have been the key to making this program effective in delivering results across the Great Lakes. Among several other worthwhile outcomes, these partnerships have led to the elimination of numerous beneficial-use impairments at Great Lakes AOCs, which will ultimately result in the delisting of AOCs across the lakes.

Northern Island, Illinois (Photo by USACE Buffalo District)

Northern Island, Illinois (Photo by USACE Buffalo District)


“Thanks to the funding provided by GLRI, the Corps of Engineers can plan, design, and construct a wide range of restoration projects to address all five focus areas of the initiative. But GLRI not only represents a great resource for the Great Lakes, it also represents an incredibly powerful collaborative effort with our state and nonfederal partners, which helps us deliver successful projects to leave positive, lasting impacts on the region for generations to come,” said Lt. Col. Eli Adams, Buffalo District commander.


FOCUS AREA 1: Toxic substances and AOCs includes remediation and restoration of the most polluted areas of the Great Lakes, and characterizing and assessing risks that emerging contaminants may pose to the Great Lakes.

FOCUS AREA 2: Invasive species includes preventing new invasive species’ introductions to the Great Lakes ecosystem and controlling existing invasive species populations, including preventing the establishment of self-sustaining populations of Asian carp.

FOCUS AREA 3: Nonpoint source pollution impacts on nearshore health focuses on high-priority watershed and polluted runoff reductions from urban, suburban, and agricultural sources, including activities to reduce nutrient runoff to prevent harmful and nuisance algal blooms.

FOCUS AREA 4: Habitats and species includes protecting, restoring, and enhancing habitat and populations of native fish and wildlife species in the Great Lakes basin.

FOCUS AREA 5: Foundations for future restoration actions includes conducting comprehensive science programs and projects, assessing the overall health of the Great Lakes, and educating the next generation about the Great Lakes ecosystem.

To accomplish projects addressed by these focus areas, USACE leverages existing authorities and regional Great Lakes’ programs. The Great Lakes Fishery & Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program is being used to plan, design, and construct projects to restore wetlands, provide fishery connectivity to the Great Lakes, and control sea lamprey and other aquatic nuisance species. The Great Lakes Remedial Action Plan (RAP) program is being used to help states and local partners plan and design actions to clean up and delist AOCs, while the USACE Regional Sediment Management (RSM) program is being used to encourage the beneficial use of dredged material to create coastal wetlands and to help state and local entities evaluate and compare alternatives for soil conservation and nonpoint source pollution prevention.

From the start of the program through fiscal year 2020, USACE has received more than $446 million in GLRI funding. The vast majority of these funds go directly toward planning, design, and construction of projects.

“The GLRI is an incredible success story with tremendous and widespread support. This initiative has allowed the Corps of Engineers to utilize our expertise in multi-agency water resources planning and execution while showcasing our capabilities to multiple federal, state, and tribal entities,” said Great Lakes Program Manager Carl Platz. “It’s truly inspiring to see how the Great Lakes ecosystem is benefitting from the partnerships that continue to develop, as we all work together to achieve common goals.”

More information on USACE’s involvement in the GLRI program can be found at: Great-Lakes-Restoration-Initiative-GLRI/.

This article appears in the 2020-2021 edition of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces


• The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division (LRD) is one of nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regional commands with seven operating districts: Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Huntington, Louisville, and Nashville. LRD is a unique division with two distinct watersheds.

• Region covers 335,000 square miles in 17 states: Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, serving more than 17 million people.

• Includes 104 congressional districts, 34 U.S. senators, and 17 state delegations.

• Employs 4,200 civilian and military engineers, scientists, project managers, and technical experts.

• Manages more than $2 billion in military and civil works design and construction projects.

• USACE issues permits for all construction activities affecting U.S. waters.

• Over the past five years, LRD averaged 10,400 general permits, 555 individual permits, and 7,300 jurisdictional determinations each year.

• LRD is also home to three USACE virtual centers of expertise: the Dam Safety Modification Mandatory Center of Expertise, the Planning Center of Expertise for Inland Navigation and Risks Informed Economics Division, and the Inland Navigation Design Center.


• LRD’s Military Programs cover five states within its boundaries.

• The division supports 15 installations: nine Army, four Air Force, one Navy, and one DOD, with an annual budget of more than $150 million for these efforts.

• LRD executes more than $500 million per year in work for DOD as the engineering design and construction agent in major construction. The Army and Air Force Reserve are its largest military customers, as it supports their design and construction efforts nationwide. The reserves account for two-thirds of the division’s major construction program.

• LRD is cleaning up hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste, and military munitions at Formerly Used Defense Sites and closed military bases, with an annual budget of $70 million.


• Reducing disaster risk is something USACE does every day, from routine maintenance on dams to levee safety inspections, to designing and building flood risk reduction systems, to modeling and simulations.

• LRD Readiness and Contingency Operations (RCO) is the national lead for the temporary emergency power mission. In support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), LRD deploys multi-skilled teams nationwide to install, operate, and de-install FEMA-owned generators at key critical facilities until commercial power is restored.

• The division is the designated lead for response, recovery, and mitigation planning efforts in support of Emergency Support Function 3 (ESF #3) activities conducted under the National Response Framework – primarily in coordination with FEMA Region V as well as with the states of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

• LRD and its districts deploy engineering experts and provide flood fight supplies to state and local communities in times of high water at the request of governors. Most recently during late December 2015 and early January 2016 major flooding, six engineers were deployed to the lower Ohio and Wabash River basins and provided more than 70,000 sandbags to assist local flood fight efforts.


• LRD provides technical assistance on a reimbursable basis to federal agencies, state and local governments, private U.S. firms, international organizations, and foreign governments at the request of the State Department or DOD.

• Customers include the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.


• Navigation – The Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS) is a continuous 27-foot deep-draft waterway extending from the western end of Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota, to the Gulf of the St. Lawrence River on the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of more than 2,400 miles. This binational resource is composed of the five Great Lakes, the connecting channels of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The U.S. portion of the system includes 140 harbors (60 commercial, 80 recreational), two operational locks, 104 miles of breakwaters and jetties, and more than 600 miles of maintained navigation channels. In addition, the GLNS connects to several other shallow-draft waterways (Illinois Waterway, New York State Barge Canal, etc.) to form an important waterborne transportation network, reaching deep into the continent. The Great Lakes handled 128 million tons of commodities in 2013. Major commodities transported included iron ore (42%), coal (19%), and limestone (19%). • Ohio River System (main stem and tributaries) provides 2,600 miles of navigable waters and enables 245 million tons of cargo to ship annually, equating to nearly 30% of the country’s domestic waterborne commerce, with the main commodity being coal.

• Flood Risk Management protects people and the economy – LRD manages 84 dams and reservoirs for flood risk reduction, water supply, environmental stewardship, and recreation in cooperation with local water supply managers and stakeholders.

• LRD has 539 miles of levees and more than 100 local flood protection projects that include walls, levees, and channel improvements.

• The division helps fight floods during flood conditions and repair certified levees that are damaged by storms.

• LRD manages 1.5 million acres of land and water including 756 recreation areas at 100 lake and river sites. These areas receive more than 80 million visitors annually and generate 27,000 jobs in local communities. They include parks, campgrounds, marinas, swim areas, and hiking trails, and offer a host of other recreational activities for outdoor enthusiasts.