TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - An Obama administration program that has spent more than $1.3 billion on healing the troubled Great Lakes needs a better scorecard for measuring its performance, a government watchdog report released Friday says.
The analysis by the Government Accountability Office does not pass judgment on how well the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working, while acknowledging that federal officials and advocacy groups believe it's making significant progress on pollution cleanup and other problems.
But it says a plan for running the program devised by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments is short on yardsticks for confirming those impressions.
"Without useful measures, EPA may not be able to determine that GLRI efforts are producing the desired results," says the report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
The Obama administration began funding the program in 2010, based on a priority list compiled by state, local and tribal officials, academics and advocacy groups. It's based on scientific findings that the lakes face pervasive threats - primarily invasive species, toxic contamination, runoff from farms and cities, and loss of wildlife habitat - that could devastate fish populations and undermine ecosystems.
The lakes provide drinking water to more than 30 million people and are an economic pillar for eight states and two Canadian provinces.
The initiative has funded more than 1,700 projects, from wetland restorations to removal of contaminated sediments from harbors and river mouths. It has supported the fight to ward off Asian carp - ravenous fish that have infested the Mississippi River and are moving toward the lakes.