What began as Peter M. Wege’s vision to save the Great Lakes by inviting 70 environmentalists to a Grand Rapids conference in May 2004 turned into and unprecedented federal commitment within five years. Also supported by the Beldon, Frey, and Mott Foundations, the original meeting Wege convened at Steelcase University has made environmental history in record time. In February 2009, President Obama signed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a plan to restore the Great Lakes with an estimated $20 billion price tag.

In 2010 alone, the federal government has provided $475 million for Great Lakes restoration, including grants to address the three most serious threats to the Great Lakes: invasive species, non-point source pollution, and contaminated sediments.

These three primary targets came almost verbatim from the report –Wege called it the Great Lakes’ “Magna Carta” – issued by the original Healing Our Waters conference attendees in 2004. At the time Peter Wege told his invited guests that he wanted the Lakes restored in five years as, “I’m not getting any younger.”

Eyes rolled. Can’t be done. Federal funding? Politics? Elections? Monstrous endeavors like restoring the Lakes take decades to happen! But Peter M. Wege proved, once again, that he has a knack for making his impossible visions come true.

The Sixth Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in September 2010 in Buffalo, New York, the sixth of the eight Great Lakes states to host the yearly gathering. From the original 30 environmental groups who met at Steelcase in 2004, over 120 organizations representing millions of Americans are now active members of the HOW-Great Lakes Coalition.

Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation, and Lynn McClure, National Parks Conservation Association, co-chair the coalition with Mark Van Putten serving as The Wege Foundation’s consultant on the GLRI. In his newly published book, ECONOMICOLOGY II, Peter Wege says that restoring the Great Lakes is the single most important work he’s done in his life.

Wege’s good friend, the late President Gerald R. Ford, agreed. In congratulating Peter for his leadership on the Lakes, President Ford spoke for all Americans when he wrote in July 2006, “The Great Lakes have enriched my life as they have so many others, and I share your commitment to restoring them for our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”