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The Future of Chicago Beach Conservation May Be in Trouble

Spring has officially sprung and that means Chicago’s beaches will be open again next month. But the future upkeep of the beaches could be in jeopardy.

President Donald J. Trump’s budget outline, announced March 16, eliminates the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) as part of a $2.6 billion budget cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The project, started in 2010 by the Obama administration, receives $300 million per year.

The White House explained in a statement that the cut “returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing [the] EPA to focus on its highest national priorities.”

The focus of the GLRI includes restoring habitats to protect native species, removing toxic substances and treating areas of concern where there’s been chemical, physical or biological problems from Chicago’s pollution and residents, according to the EPA.

The money funding the GLRI has been used to improve water quality and restore 150,000 acres of habitat and about 300 miles of shoreline, according to the Northland College Water Summit (NCWS). That money also goes to programs such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP).

The NCWS said in a statement that lower Lake Michigan has experienced extensive urban and agricultural development, causing contamination to be a concern in many areas. If funding is cut, the programs keeping the water clean and restoring habitats could disappear, according to an article from NBC Washington.

The statement also explained the NCWS believes that “now it’s time for the next President and Congress to build the future of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, to glean from these first six years the knowledge of what has worked and what has not and to make those course changes that will create even greater progress in healing a wounded ecosystem.”

The health of Chicago’s lakeside habitats and wildlife isn’t the only foreseeable issue. Safe drinking water could be at stake as Lake Michigan is the largest public drinking water supply in the state, serving 6.6 million people, according to the Lake Michigan Monitoring Program.

The combination of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario makes up about 95 percent of fresh drinking water in the United States, which means about 40 million people across the country receive drinking water from the lakes, according to the NOAA.

One of NOAA’s programs measures fresh water and toxin levels across the country by satellite images. If the program gets cut, so does the ability to keep track of clean water in the country, according to the NOAA.

The office of the administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt did not respond to  a request for comment.

All Chicago beaches will officially open May 26, except Fargo Beach, which is closed due to high water levels covering the beach area, according to the Chicago Park District.

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