As the challenges facing the Great Lakes evolve, so do our investments. We’re continually finding new areas for innovation. Here are some themes we’re exploring.
They’re a good source of ideas — but they shouldn’t limit your imagination. Whether your idea fits one of these themes or not, if you believe it has a significant value to the Great Lakes, we’re interested.
Please get in touch. We’re always seeking big ideas that are consistent with our funding guidelines. You can also look at our Strategic Plan (PDF) and consider how your idea might fit.
Sustainable Use of Water Resources
- Reduce nutrient and pathogen loads to basin waters
- Reduce flow alterations
- Improve river, coastal, and lake water quality
Projects of Interest
- Efforts to test, validate, and package strategies for “smart” infrastructure management. Actions that integrate natural solutions with built infrastructure; apply sensors, machine learning, and controls; attack basin-wide problems; and significantly decrease capital costs
The Great Lakes Commission estimates that identified needs in the region’s drinking water, wastewater treatment, and stormwater management infrastructure exceeds $178 billion — and that estimate is low. It’s based on engineering estimates that rely on outdated assumptions about precipitation. Investment in this infrastructure is critical to protecting ecosystems, restoring the health of the waters, and safeguarding the health of residents.
But there are many challenges. Water infrastructure remains underfunded. Larger and more frequent storms will require new investments and ways of thinking. New contaminants are found, but affordable ways to clean them up don’t always follow.
If we can better control how water moves across and through the landscape, we will see benefits to our neighborhoods, and we can help solve nutrient pollution, sedimentation, and pathogen contamination of beaches and improve biological conditions in receiving waters.
Control of Excess Nutrients
- Reduce loads of phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment entering the Great Lakes
- Reduce soil nutrient loss and improve soil health
- Improve land water retention
- Reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms
Projects of Interest
- New drain assessment schemes that incentivize better water management on farm fields and showcase the leadership of drain managers in solving the nutrient problems in the region
- Actions to test, validate, and scale third-party services providing ecological benefits that directly contribute to reducing nutrient-driven algae outbreaks
- Creating new operating models and identifying investment opportunities to support adoption of these services
Excess nutrients, mainly dissolved reactive phosphorus, lead to algae outbreaks in the basin’s rivers, bays, and lakes. Even Lake Superior, which has not been vulnerable to the algae problems more common in the lower lakes, is now experiencing algal blooms. The vast majority of the phosphorus entering the Lakes is from agricultural areas, whose many miles of drainage channels convey nutrients and sediments to places where algae feed on them.
Algal blooms rob waters of oxygen, limit the use of beaches, and can release potent toxins that harm humans and wildlife. Several public water supply systems have been forced to stop operations because of the presence of one of these toxins, microcystin.
While the region debates what governments might do to control this problem, the Fund seeks market-driven approaches. As agriculture increasingly relies on third parties to manage drainage, fertilizer application, design cropping systems, and growing crops, we will work to embed conservation services into these business models. We will also work with drain owners to explore changes in how they manage and fund their networks to reduce the “flashiness” of stream flow, reduce sediment loads, and reduce the nutrients entering the Lakes.
Invasive Species Management
- Further decrease the rate of new invaders establishing in the Great Lakes
- Slow the spread of existing invasive species
- Minimize impacts of existing nuisance species
Projects of Interest
- Assessing the threat posed by the next generation of invaders (genetically modified organisms), and the potential to use such tools to stop or reverse invasions
- Advancing control strategies and building tools for Great Lakes states and private parties to use in their control efforts
- Working with stakeholders across the Great Lakes to develop innovations in monitoring, predictive analytics, new partnerships, and other tools
Invasive species damage to the region exceeds $5 billion each year. These species arrive via canals, ships, aquaculture, recreational activities, and through the use and commercial trade in live organisms. The rate of discovery of new non-native species has slowed significantly, but it hasn’t stopped. And efforts to eradicate established invasive species have made notable progress, but no program has successfully eliminated an invader.
There is much activity on this topic among state, provincial, and federal agencies. As statutes and rules change, we will look for opportunities to launch new actions — while staying out of the regulatory and spending debates.
The Unexpected & Beyond
We retain a small portion of our portfolio to invest in opportunities beyond these core priorities — new ideas and new strategies, including new types of funding.
We’re interested in any opportunity for transformational solutions to basin problems. That openness has been a hallmark of the Fund and always will be. Please reach out if you have any questions or to discuss your ideas.