Habitat Restoration in
Great Lakes Areas of Concern

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are leading efforts to restore several Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) — the worst “toxic hotspots” in the region. The GLC implements restoration work through a NOAA Regional Partnership, a unique funding mechanism that allows key projects to receive critical funding while maintaining necessary flexibility for changing needs and administrative and communications support.  In recognition of the GLC’s longstanding commitment to restoring AOCs, it has been awarded three regional habitat restoration partnerships since 2008, with the potential of up to $70 million being directed to key sites across the basin. The partnerships are aligned and coordinated with ongoing efforts of federal and state agencies to implement other restoration projects in AOCs, and are expected to culminate in formal removal, or de-listing. These projects have immense environmental and economic benefits, and are helping to enhance quality of life for citizens across the basin.
The NOAA-GLC partnership includes 14 on the ground projects in three AOCs with five local project partners.  When complete, these projects will have restored approximately 130 acres and 17,000 feet of critical fish and wildlife habitat. In addition, the partnerships are funding a socio-economic study of the value of restoration on local communities and communications about the benefits of these unique restorations.

Project Narrative

Areas of Concern (AOCs) are watersheds, or portions of watersheds, along the Great Lakes suffering from degraded environmental conditions stemming from historic and ongoing pollution. They were designated under the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement based on criteria that include drinking water restrictions, loss of fish and wildlife habitat and beach closures.

NOAA Regional Partnerships support fish and wildlife habitat restoration efforts in AOCs by designing and implementing high priority projects that are identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, the states, and local AOC leaders.  The partnerships are aligned and coordinated with ongoing efforts of federal and state agencies to implement other restoration projects in AOCs, and will eventually culminate in formal removal, or de-listing. Funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the development of the GLRI Action Plan has significantly expedited restoration in AOCs and provides funding for the NOAA-GLC partnerships.

The Great Lakes Commission has been engaged in Regional Partnerships with NOAA since 2008 to implement design, construction and monitoring of key habitat restoration projects. Partnerships typically last three to four years and GLC is currently coordinating projects funded under a 2013 partnership in the St. Marys River, Muskegon Lake and Buffalo River AOCs.  A new partnership established in 2016 is funding implementation of the final habitat restoration project in the Muskegon Lake AOC and will add other AOCs into the partnership over the next two years.  In addition, the 2016 partnership is funding a follow-up to a 2011 socio-economic study on the value of restoration, which showed a 6-to-1 return on restoration dollars in the local economy.

To implement this work, the Great Lakes Commission offers a centralized, core team that is augmented by local implementation partners and research institutions to help steward AOCs into social, economic and ecological sustainability.

Project Partners


The 2013 NOAA-GLC Partnership has made $30 million available and the 2016 NOAA-GLC Partnership has made $40 million available for habitat restoration across the Great Lakes basin. Both of the partnerships are funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

For More Information

Heather Braun
Habitat Restoration and Coastal Conservation Program Manager
Great Lakes Commission

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