How Mott Backs Group Efforts to Clean Up the Gross Third Coast

Here's a fun fact: The Great Lakes hold 21% of the freshwater in the world, and if you dumped them out somewhere over the Rockies, there would be enough water to turn the continental U.S. into one giant swimming pool.

And yet, that freshwater supply is often not so fresh, and you definitely wouldn't want to swim in some of it. That's why Michigan's Charles Stewart Mott Foundation devotes a sizable chunk of its conservation funding to cleaning up and protecting the region. (See Charles Steward Mott Foundation: Grants for Conservation.)

Environmental problems have long plagued the Great Lakes region, largely sparking the modern environmental movement and a great Randy Newman song. Modern concerns include fertilizer pollution from agriculture, untreated sewage from urban runoff, and toxic substances and heavy metals. And don't forget the biggest jerk of the fish world, the Asian carp.

Complicating the matter is the fact that the Lakes belong to seven American states and Canada, making regulation and conservation a sometimes fragmented effort. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has made it a priority to help coordinate non-profit and funding efforts aimed at supporting the region, including location-based conservation efforts and policy work.

The foundation gave about $10 million in environmental grants in 2012, a quarter of which went to Great Lakes-related programs. The other major environmental focus for Mott is international investment in sustainability, with a focus on Latin America. (Read conservation Program Director Samuel Passmore's IP profile.)

Mott's Great Lakes funding supports collaboration among local and state-based conservation groups to strengthen the overall community working on the issue, as well as support better water-quality policies and the protection of specific locations.

For example, the Portland-based River Network has received about $1.25 million since 2008. OK, so nothing says Great Lakes like rivers in Oregon. But the River Network is actually a national organization that works to protect waters across the country by wrangling thousands of state, regional, and local citizen nonprofits to do the same. It spends a great deal of funds to protect waters in the Midwest. There's also Michigan-based Freshwater Future, which has received similar levels of funding to support community groups working in the Great Lakes basin.

You may be seeing a theme here — collaboration. Even support for state-based groups such as the Ohio and Michigan Environmental Councils focuses on coordinating and teaming up with other organizations. Groups seeking support from Mott would be advised to play well with others in the region.

There is, of course, plenty of support for that old conservation standby the Nature Conservancy to protect and manage especially troubled areas. Randy Newman would be so proud.