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Great Lakes funding gets boost from Congress

The U.S. House and Senate have agreed on a more than $1 trillion spending bill for 2014 that includes $300 million for the ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and $1.4 billion for loans to states for clean-water-infrastructure projects.

Both of those are increases in federal spending, up from $285 million in 2013 for the Great Lakes program and $1.37 billion for the loan program.

The Senate and House are slated to act on the appropriations bill later this week when they vote on funding the government through the end of September. They were expected to vote today on a temporary bill to avoid a government shutdown.

The ongoing Great Lakes program is aimed at reducing invasive species, restoring habitat, ending bacteria-caused beach closures and preventing runoff and other pollution. The program has pumped millions of dollars into Minnesota and Wisconsin projects in recent years, including several to clean up and restore the St. Louis River estuary in the Twin Ports — including the removal of tons of century-old wood waste from Radio Tower Bay, an area that’s hoped to be restored as prime fish habitat.

The federal money will be funneled through federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to state, local and nonprofit efforts in a competitive application process for specific new projects. State matching money often is required.

Supporters of the restoration effort praised lawmakers’ commitment to keep funding flowing, noting the restoration projects provide good-paying jobs in addition to improving the regional environment and bolstering the lakes that provide the region’s drinking water, recreation, commerce and industry.

“This investment will help support programs that are delivering results in communities across the region,” Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said in a statement.