The 10th Conference was held September 9-11, 2014, in the city where HOW was born: Grand Rapids, Michigan. In May 2004, the late Peter M. Wege turned his dream for saving the five Great Lakes into action when he invited seventy-plus national experts in environmental policy, science, and economics to a conference at Steelcase, Inc., the office furniture company founded by his father in 1912.
In his invitational letter, Peter Wege summarized his vision for that founding conference: Our objective is to collaboratively reach consensus on a policy statement for restoring the Great Lakes ecosystem. We will focus not on the problems, but the solutions. He asked the attending experts to develop a powerful statement on the policy reforms needed to begin healing the Great Lakes.
Over three long days of work sessions, lively debate, and skilled facilitation, those first HOW attendees summarized the three major threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, pollution, and threatened water quality. Collectively they considered keeping out exotic species a top priority because once foreign aquatic species enter the Great Lakes, they can rarely be eradicated.
Wege called the final policy statement that came out of the first HOW conference, “The Magna Carta of the Great Lakes.” Ten years later at their annual conference, the HOW Great Lakes Coalition could celebrate more than $1.6 billion in federal funds to protect and restore the lakes in over 2,000 restoration projects.
These major leaps forward in meeting Wege’s dream of “saving the Great Lakes” are a direct result of a $20 billion package of proposed laws called the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation spearheaded.
Now called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the federal legislation named the very problems the original HOW conference had identified as most serious. Stop the introduction of invasive Annual Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Restoration species. Prevent sewage contamination and toxic pollution. Restore wildlife habitat.
Peter M. Wege would always call Healing Our Waters “the most important single project of my life as an environmental activist since starting the Wege Foundation in 1967.” The attached tribute video to Peter M. Wege’s legacy on restoring the Great Lakes is visual confirmation of the astounding success of his “most important single project.”