Great Lakes Restoration Conference Heads to Detroit

Anna Brunner
Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition
April 09, 2019
child detroit riverfront

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition hosts its annual Great Lakes Conference from May 8-9 in Detroit, Michigan. The annual conference brings together more than 300 Great Lakes advocates, scientists, citizens and government leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities in the ongoing effort to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

As Great Lakes issues are fundamentally binational, the conference also attracts leaders from Canadian environmental groups, including presenters.

child detroit riverfront
A child plays on the Detroit riverfront. Credit: Todd Marsee/Michigan Sea Grant

The keynote address of the 2019 conference will be delivered by Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president for environmental justice, climate and community revitalization at the National Wildlife Federation. Ali is a former senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus and senior adviser at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The conference will also delve into critical issues facing the Great Lakes and local communities—perhaps none more important than water affordability. As residents in Cleveland and Chicago have seen their water rates double and triple, respectively, over the last 10 years, water affordability has been a hot topic—and one that will be addressed during a conference plenary.

kayak belle isle
A person kayaks in Belle Isle’s blue heron lagoon. Credit: Friends of the Detroit River

The conference also will examine the region’s water infrastructure crisis, looking at the problem from the perspective of individuals, municipalities and utility operators.

Presentations will look at legal hurdles and opportunities of water affordability, how to measure compliance with the lead and copper rule—a US Environmental Protection Agency regulation on the amount of lead and copper in drinking water—and imagining a collective and decentralized model for infrastructure to replace our current centralized system.

An agenda is online at

Other sessions include how best to implement nature-based infrastructure projects, building on lessons learned from communities and programs across the region.

Results from several Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects will be discussed, including islands in the Detroit River which have benefitted from habitat restoration and Areas of Concern, which have had toxic pollution removed or contained in locations throughout Michigan. Threats to the lakes also will be an important topic, with presentations on net pen aquaculture and point source pollution regulation on farms.

fish belle isle pier
People fish off a newly restored pier on Belle Isle. Credit: Donna Kert

Attendees at the Great Lakes Conference also may join a field trip. There are many this year, including a kayak trip down Michigan’s Rouge River Water Trail and a trip north to Flint to learn more about that city’s ongoing water crisis and see progress that’s been made to replace lead service lines throughout the city.

See a full list of field trips, registration information and more at

Anna Brunner
Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

Anna Brunner is the communications coordinator for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.