Potential Project Ideas

These are sketches of what collaborative teams might do to create, test and deploy new ways of improving the physical, chemical and biological health of the basin ecosystem. Depending on how they are designed and executed, any of these ideas may, or may not, ultimately fit our funding criteria.

This list is not a specification sheet, a desired product list or in any way intended to limit what candidate project teams should consider proposing.

Innovative Technologies

Infrastructure visualization software that forecasts the ecological impacts (i.e. long-term drainage, soil permeability, changes to instream flow patterns) of public infrastructure projects through their entire lifecycle, testing climate scenarios and the growth consequences of public investment.

An ecological early warning system for the Great Lakes. This project could develop a prototype “immune” system that generates automatic warnings of potential ecological harm and engages/manages/deploys methods to mitigate or eliminate the detected threat.

Test the effectiveness of green infrastructure or other management techniques using one or more of the measures created in past Fund-supported work, and/or other techniques. Such work would illustrate how the path that water follows across or through the land determines the ecological health of streams, rivers, and lakes and evaluate how well different measures of hydrologic integrity perform in different places. Such work would create a new water use framework that includes drainage/runoff as a category of use.

Forensic measures: a series of protocols to identify the sources of biological pollution, dumped cargo, airborne pollutants and/or new, emerging pollutants. Such techniques might include DNA analysis, chemical fingerprinting, and mixture analysis.

Ecosystem accounting standards: a system that allows the region to track the different categories of monetary transactions that affect the ecosystem, and how money flows between those categories. Ideally, a set of draft standards would be applied to the creation of a first of its kind “Great Lakes ecosystem budget.”

Measures of foreign direct investment: and an assessment of the consequences of change. Much of the economic capacity of the Great Lakes is owned by entities outside of the U.S. and Canada, and may be subject to different rules governing the use of the resource. One project could assess the magnitude of that issue and identify how local, state, federal and international safeguards could be strengthened to help restore the Great Lakes.

Business Model Innovation

Design, price and offer performance bonds for ships entering the Great Lakes to ensure that those vessels that adequately control the release of exotic species through ballast water, sea chests, hulls, and anchor chains have lower costs of doing business in the basin.

Design and test one or more financial intermediaries that provide access to capital markets for entities undertaking restoration efforts. Such entities could be thought of as “restoration-based” community development financial institutions. Such an institution could aggregate funds from the capital markets, political subdivisions with bonding authority, or appropriations, and provide a set of services that might include micro-finance for not-for-profits or landowners to carry out restoration actions, create a portfolio of loans to share risks, or hold revolving loan fund capitalization grants.

Water Improvement Trust: A not-for-profit corporation acquires rights to lands/projects that adversely impact the health of the region’s water dependent natural resources and markets the improvements that would result from their remediation. The trust secures financing, undertakes management activities and generates improvements to the health of water dependent natural resources. The trust would function as a not-for-profit holding company for resource improvement projects conveyed to willing buyers.

Ecosystem Services Districts: A specialized government entity to direct public investment into activities that enhance those ecological services that improve the condition of the district’s water and water dependent natural resources. Such a district could take ownership of abandoned dams and finance their removal, raise additional financing to restore flow characteristics of regulated ditches and drains, or serve to finance and manage local projects that have positive regional consequences.

A clean shipping system, such as one that allows brokers, agents, and shipping managers to choose clean vessels based on routes, risks, and management measures. The project could include ship tracking, management oversight/reporting, risk modeling, and “certification”.

Pilot (even as a virtual exercise) a new public utility model that includes water productivity and resource improvement as specific objective. Such a utility could include drinking water supply, wastewater treatment, runoff management and other services at a watershed scale.

Design and test, even in a virtual setting, value-based pricing for certain water services. This might include water supply for large industrial customers, drainage treatments for upper watersheds, and other things a “utility” might provide that is more valuable than the average or marginal cost of service. Such experiments might include exploring all-in, second price auctions for water service-especially in areas where groundwater sources are overtaxed. A team would explore how such techniques might work and what set of changes in policy, practice, structure and governance might be needed to use them.

Innovative Leadership

Identify key constituencies responsible for affecting the types of land in need of better management and protection, and in collaboration with these constituencies develop effective mechanisms for ensuring the future integrity of those lands.

Increase the number of small businesses that create and maintain their own pollution prevention programs. One approach might be to create an industry specific network of experts and interns that brings pollution prevention expertise to businesses through community colleges, industry associations, or industrial development corporations.