GLRI – Where We’ve Been Guides Where We’re Headed


By Cam Davis

It’s not hyperbole to say it: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is now known throughout North America as a $4-plus billion investment that’s helping the Midwest’s credible clean water revival. It’s sparked jobs, ecological vibrancy, community excitement, and even rallied bipartisanship in an era when it feels elusive. 

Other ecoregions around the country, long the envy of Great Lakes program funding, would within a matter of years see the script flipped, with their stakeholders asking how the Great Lakes pulled it off so that they could, too. Political pundits, predicting inertia over momentum, came to wonder how they could have been so surprised. And for those who think partisanship always trumps partnership, the program proved them wrong. 

But what’s the program’s origin story? And why is it important to know? 

Understanding the GLRI’s genealogy—including some of its early heroes—can provide a stratagem for success today and into the future. 

And even most Great Lakes scholars might be surprised to know that the historical head waters of the GLRI can be charted to an understated but vital gathering in Washington, D.C. nearly a quarter century ago. 

Part 1 – From Skepticism to Success (read here) 

Part 2 – From Strategy to Success (read here)

Part 3 – From Steadfastness to Success (read here)