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Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Great Lake Restoration Initiative

GLRI - What's New

  • NRCS has successfully developed a series of Demonstration Farms networks in Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. Through this collaboration and funding, NRCS can publicly highlight the most effective conservation systems in an area (e.g. Demonstration Farm Field Day).
  • NRCS continues to work with the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor the benefits of conservation practices to water quality in priority watersheds located in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Indiana using Edge-of-Field Monitoring techniques.
  • NRCS has developed a unique partnership with the interstate agency Great Lakes Commission (GLC) to reduce nutrient and sediment loss with an emphasis on a significant reduction of phosphorus loads in the Great Lakes. GLC has successfully supported over 120 local projects.
  • Through GLRI funding, the NRCS, the US Geological Survey, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Purdue University are monitoring sediment and nutrient export in surface and tile runoff from select farm fields in four priority watersheds of the Great Lakes.


America’s Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario — hold 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water, providing habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife and drinking water for more than 40 million people. Recreational and commercial fishing are one of the region’s major industries, and the lakes facilitate transportation and commerce in the eight states that border the lakes.

But the lakes suffer from pollution, caused by urban runoff and sprawl, sewage disposal, agriculture, industry and other sources. This pollution damages the aquatic ecosystems and poses risks to human health. In recent time, algal blooms in Lake Erie underscored the importance of continued conservation efforts in the region.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was launched in 2010 with NRCS as one of a number of federal agency partners. GLRI helps NRCS accelerate conservation efforts on private lands located in targeted watersheds throughout the region. Through GLRI, NRCS works with farmers and landowners to combat invasive species, protect watersheds and shorelines from non-point source pollution and restore wetlands and other habitat areas.

How Does GLRI Work?

GLRI funding is added to the regular funding that NRCS gets each year, for its Farm Bill conservation programs, in order to accelerate Great Lakes protection and restoration. Through Farm Bill conservation programs, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to landowners, enabling them to make conservation improvements to their land. This assistance helps them plan and implement a variety of conservation practices, such as planting cover crops, adopting no-till, removing invasive plants and restoring wetlands.

People standing in a field, watching a demonstration of edge of field monitoring equipment in Wisconsin.

An edge of field monitoring demonstration in Wisconsin.

NRCS, through the GLRI, targets watersheds that are expected to have the greatest impacts on improving water quality. As part of this effort, GLRI Phosphorus Priority Areas were jointly recognized by USDA-NRCS, EPA-Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are nested within larger GLRI Priority Watersheds.

GLRI funds are targeted to these Priority Watersheds to implement avoiding, controlling and trapping practices (e.g. nutrient management, drainage water management, cover crops, waste storage facilities, cover crops and residue) that reduce the amount of nutrient loss from agricultural lands.

How Does GLRI Benefit Producers?

Assistance from Farm Bill conservation programs help improve water quality while also helping farmers and landowners improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, reduce the delivery of nutrients and sediments to the lakes and their tributaries, and make their agricultural operations more efficient. In addition, assistance from Farm Bill conservation programs enable them to reduce input costs, employ innovative practices and make operations more resilient to climatic extremes.

How Does GLRI Benefit the Public?

The public benefits from greater protection and restoration of the Great Lakes because GLRI gives farmers and landowners the additional resources and tools they need to help improve water quality, restore and protect vital habitat, and provide cleaner water and healthier ecosystems.

GLRI Partners

GLRI is part of a larger national strategy  to improve water quality in the Great Lakes. As part of an interagency funding agreement led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), GLRI encompasses a broad partnership of federal, state, local and non-governmental organizations taking action in the basin. NRCS focuses its work on private lands in priority watersheds. Federal agencies use GLRI resources to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to accelerate progress toward long term goals. Combining GLRI resources with agency base budgets, we work with nonfederal partners to implement protection and restoration projects.

NRCS has developed approaches with federal, state, and private partners to better target conservation planning and implementation for improving water quality in the Great Lakes Region. 


  • Since 2010 using GLRI funding, NRCS has entered into over 2,700 conservation contracts with farmers to help them implement conservation practices on over 613,000 acres improving water quality within the Great Lakes Basin.
  • Practices implemented by farmers working in partnership with NRCS through GLRI have reduced phosphorus by over 1.1 million pounds in target areas since 2010.
  • Over 8,200 acres of wildlife habitat were protected, restored and/or enhanced by the implementation of conservation practices via GLRI funded projects, located in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • Over 2,600 acres of aquatic/terrestrial invasive species were controlled by the implementation of conservation practices via GLRI-funded projects, located in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

People seated under a tent in a field, for a presentation on phosphorus filters for runoff and tile drainage on Kurt Farm, Hardin County, Ohio.

Presentation on phosphorus filters for runoff and tile drainage on Kurt Farm, Hardin County, Ohio.

Additional NRCS Conservation Initiatives within the Great Lakes Region

Conservation Efforts in the Great Lakes Region 

USDA NRCS GLRI Success Stories

More Information - NRCS Conservation Programs

NRCS's natural resources conservation programs help people reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damages caused by floods and other natural disasters.

For more information and updates about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other NRCS conservation efforts, please refer to the Natural Resources Conservation Service web site

Official EPA GLRI News Website

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USDA NRCS GLRI Priority Watersheds

USDA NRCS GLRI Priority Watersheds General Map FY2023

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USDA NRCS GLRI Detailed Watersheds Map FY2023

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Click link to open Priority Watersheds List

 For more information:

Martin Lowenfish
(202) 690-4979

State-specific sites: