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GLPF Celebrates 25 Years

Russell Van Herik, Executive Director

In February, 1989 a bipartisan group of seven governors signed an improbable, yet historic, agreement. They agreed to invest in a private corporation whose sole purpose was to protect the Great Lakes. By endowing the Great Lakes Protection Fund, they committed to preserve the natural and economic vitality of the Great Lakes as a region.

To find new ways to meet the objectives of the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the governors created a permanent, publicly-capitalized, private corporation. They intended the Fund to be a stable source of funding to help the basin’s inhabitants develop solutions in perpetuity.

The member states—Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—have benefitted from a 7.6 percent average annual return on the original $81 million investment. Those earnings have returned $44 million directly back to the states for local water initiatives, and have funded $69 million in regional projects. The Fund’s assets currently exceed $130 million.

The governors chose a business model that requires a citizen board of directors (63 individuals to date) reflecting the diverse interests that use the water and benefit from the Lakes. Directors are fiduciaries of the endowment and stewards of the Great Lakes. They have provided seed capital to 253 project teams, drawn from more than 800 institutions, to successfully turn ideas into action.

Innovation, collaboration, and catalytic change are hallmarks of the Fund’s projects. Fund-supported teams have demonstrated that business can be profitable while having a positive environmental impact. Novel approaches are developed and tested to ensure that new uses of water are better than those they displace. To accomplish the shared priorities of the governors, project teams have:

  • designed, installed and tested the world’s first ballast water filtration system on a working vessel;
  • created, tested and deployed strategies for independent, third party certification of timber management in forested watersheds leading to over 10 million basin acres receiving certification;
  • restored more-natural flows in over 1500 miles of basin rivers through collaborative reoperation of more than 100 hydroelectric facilities;
  • designed, deployed, evaluated and exported a water quality trading system that removed nutrients from the Great Lakes and became the basis for the national strategy on water quality trading; and
  • created and sustained the forum for the design and development of what became the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and associated Regional Agreement.

The legacy of the original seven governors and their 26 successors is a mission to identify, demonstrate, and promote regional action to enhance the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The Fund recognizes that the Great Lakes region will rely on water as its competitive advantage. The attributes of fresh water will attract new residents, new industries, and will fortify a new and likely very different economy than that of the last century.

Day-to-day decisions made by residents, businesses and governments impact the health of the ecosystem. The Fund is committed to finding teams to test actions that make available new choices and better outcomes for future generations.

“The Great Lakes Protection Fund is pleased to have been a stable source of innovation for the past 25 years. We look forward to another 25 years of providing the assurance of improved human choices to benefit the Great Lakes.”

Russell Van Herik, Executive Director