Welcome to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

A Message From the New Chair of the Cities Initiative

My name is Billy McKinney and I am the Mayor of Zion, Illinois, and the new Chair of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. I am reaching out to you today to report on this year’s successful Annual Meeting, which was held in St. Catharines, Ontario, June 22-24, 2022.

First, I would like to thank our members for nominating me and providing me with the privilege and honor to serve you as our Chair. Our organization serves an extremely vital purpose for communities across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin, and I promise to serve you well over the next year.

I would also like to express my strong thanks and appreciation to Mayor Walter Sendzik and Mayor George Cornell for their outstanding service to the organization. Under their leadership, our organization has grown and prospered in its efforts to support our communities, and it's my hope to build on their tremendous achievements.

Additionally, I would like to welcome the incoming Board and Executive Committee and say how excited I am to work collaboratively with them. We have a tremendous amount of work to do, and I know we will continue to make a difference.

Finally, a special thank you to our 145 participants and to the Cities Initiative staff for making this year’s Annual Meeting one the most successful in our organization’s history.

Our detailed discussions regarding the “Blue Economy,” and our members’ valued guidance on how our organization should move forward in supporting the socioeconomic and environmental security of our communities, were extremely fruitful.

Among other decisions, the membership voted to support the creation of a “Blue Economy Taskforce” that will work to promote Blue Economy issues for our cities. Brownfield transformation, tourism, and water innovation will be at the heart of this taskforce.

Please feel free to reach out to Phillipe.Murphy-Rheaume if you wish to serve on our Blue Economy Taskforce.

High-Profile Speakers – We were fortunate to hear from government officials and technical experts from all over the world during our sessions. Some of our speakers included:

  • Michael Regan, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
  • The Honorable Terry Duguid, Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada
  • Chair Brenda Mallory of the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality
  • Cassie Flynn, Strategic Advisor to the U.N. on Climate Change
  • Former Toronto Mayor David Miller
  • Aquanaut Fabien Cousteau
  • The Honorable Chantal Rouleau, Minister for Transport for the Province of Quebec
  • The Honorable Vance Badawey, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services
  • Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois
  • Stewart Colovin, Executive Vice President, Global Brand Strategy, MMGY

Strategic Initiatives – The membership formally approved our strategic initiatives for 2022-2025. These initiatives include:

Water Equity – Develop resources, capacity and knowledge to ensure equitable access to high-quality water resources, services and opportunities for municipalities and their citizens.

Blue Economy – Help municipalities sustainably and responsibly leverage economic benefits from local freshwater resources to create an attractive region for all to live, work and play.

Ecosystem Protection – Build the capacity of mayors and their communities to be an effective force in advancing the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin.

Climate Change & Coastal Resilience – Help municipalities plan for and take action to strengthen their resiliency to impacts from climate change with a focus on the coastal zone.

The Board and our staff look forward to advancing these initiatives in the coming months.

2023 Annual Meeting – Our members have selected Chicago, Illinois, for our next Annual Meeting. The meeting is planned for June 6-9, 2023. Please plan on joining us in Chicago next year as we celebrate our 20th anniversary and chart a path for continued success!


Mayor Billy McKinney
Chair, The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

Ontario Marine Strategy

June 26, 2022 – Mayors from Great Lakes communities and allies from industry are calling on the provincial government to develop and implement a marine strategy.  View the video.

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River mayors turn attention to growing the region’s blue economy

June 24, 2022 – Members of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative gathered in Niagara Region, Ontario to hear from government and industry speakers on the power of leveraging the basin’s freshwater resources for economic renewal as part of its annual conference.  Read the press release.

Great Lakes mayors united in support for ambitious Ontario Marine Strategy

June 23, 2022 – Securing the future of Ontario’s blue economy with a dedicated vision for the maritime transport sector should be a priority for the provincial government in its new mandate.  Read the press release.

Calls for Ontario Government to get Moving on Marine Strategy for the Province.

There's a call from some mayors across Ontario for the government to create a Marine Strategy.  Read more.  Bonnie Heslop, Newstalk 610 CKTB, June 23, 2022

Great Lakes Mayors Team Up to Support Ontario Marine Strategy

Cities Initiative looking to secure funding for competitive marine transport network in Ontario.  Read more.  Linda Morgan, 101.1 More FM, June 23, 2022

A key part of our economic opportunity’: Great Lakes mayors united in call for a provincial marine strategy

Mayors across the province say a marine strategy is needed to stay competitive globally.  Read more.  Nick Fearns, Niagara This Week, June 24, 2022

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Releases U.S. and Canadian Federal Priorities

On behalf of its more than 125 mayors, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is releasing its 2022 priorities for the U.S. and Canadian federal governments, urging support for policies, programs and funding that sustain economic recovery and catalyze long-term revitalization of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence cities. The Cities Initiative calls for continued investment in Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River restoration, water infrastructure modernization, and coastal resilience to help shoreline communities safeguard drinking water, respond to impacts from climate change, revitalize waterfront areas, and accelerate economic growth.

The priorities set the agenda for the Cities Initiative’s outreach to Congress and Parliament and federal departments and agencies in the two governments. The complete U.S. and Canadian priorities are available online here.

2021 Initiatives – U.S. and Canada

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative has been active over the past year in promoting the environmental, social and economic vitality of our member cities. This report card reviews our progress in critical areas and grades us on our success in generating tangible achievements for cities in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin.  View the 2021 Report Card.

Mayors call for $2 billion over the next five years to combat coastal damages from climate change

Great Lakes communities to spend $2 billion combatting climate change

Great Lakes region needs about $2B for flood repairs

Cities along the Great Lakes Face Rising Water and Costs

Coastal damage along Lake Michigan will cost Illinois communities over $600 million to fix thanks to climate change

Survey Finds $2B in Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Coastline Repairs in Coming Years

Climate change already impacting communities on Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River

Congressional Briefing on Water Equity Funding Priorities for Great Lakes Cities

On April 29, 2021, the Cities Initiative’s Mayor's Commission on Water Equity convened a briefing for Members of Congress and staff to present a suite of funding priorities to strengthen water equity for Great Lakes cities (see the funding priorities here). The Commission’s key message was that Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure every American has safe, reliable water and wastewater services. A complete recording of the briefing is below along with remarks from mayors from Flint, Mich., Detroit, Mich., and Milwaukee, Wisc.

One thing we know is this:
Lead is a danger to everyone

The Need for Action on Lead in Water 
Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Flint, Mich.

There probably isn’t anything in this country
funded more inequitably than water

The Challenges of Water Affordability
Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit, Mich

Building a labor pipeline to rebuild our water lines;
Creating jobs by addressing our water infrastructure challenges

Water Workforce Development Opportunities
Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Recording of Complete Briefing

2020 Initiatives – U.S. and Canada

It has been a busy and productive year for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The Cities Initiative has been fully engaged in a number of initiatives to benefit our member Cities.  Please view our 2020 Report Card to see all of the important programs we are working on.

Priorities for Advancing Recovery and Revitalization for Great Lakes Cities – 2021 U.S. Federal Priorities for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

March 2021 – On behalf of its nearly 100 member mayors, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative calls on Congress and the Biden Administration to provide economic relief for struggling cities and support critical water resources.   Read more.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Passes Legislation for Federal Revenue Replacement Funds for our Cities

February 2021 – As many of you know, The Cities Initiative has been actively advocating for federal revenue replacement funds for our cities. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has been devastating to our communities and the financial stability of many local governments hangs in the balance.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has passed legislation for federal revenue replacement funds for our cities. The next step is for the legislation to be passed by the full House of Representatives, which is expected next week. With House passage anticipated, the focus now turns to the Senate, where unanimous support from Democrats will be needed for final passage.  Read more.

Stimulus Water Restoration Initiative – A campaign to bring stimulus funding to your municipality

On July 6, 2020, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative will be launching the campaign to advocate for financial resources to address these needs and ensure your city can receive stimulus funds to put your citizens back to work and to improve your community and the water basin.  View the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative website for information on how you and your council can build support for investments in water infrastructure and coastal resilience.

Don't forget Great Lakes in the stimulus package, group tells Congress

Tom Henry, The Blade
September 7, 2020

The Chicago-based Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is making a special plea to Congress for communities within the Great Lakes watershed to get more help delivering clean, healthy water as the coronavirus pandemic continues.  Read more.

Eager to head back to the lakefront?

Patrick M. O'Connell, Chicago Tribune
June 19, 2020

Lake nearing record high: “The lake is nearly 3 feet higher than usual and approaching the historical high, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”  Read more.