Let's pay price to save Great Lakes
Published April 18, 2006
Our position: Hoosiers need to unite behind the largest environmental cleanup project in U.S. history.
A group of scientists recently concluded that the Great Lakes have reached a "tipping point" at which ecosystem-level changes occur rapidly and unexpectedly, confounding the traditional relationships between sources of stress and the expected ecosystem response.
Consider: Lake Michigan's yellow perch population has decreased by nearly 80 percent. There no longer is appreciable natural production of lake trout in the lower four lakes. Annual dumping of more than 10 billion gallons of raw sewage and storm water into tributaries flowing into the lakes forces nearly 2,000 beach closings each summer. More than half of the region's wetlands and forests are gone.
Unless drastic action is taken, the ecological destruction of a system of lakes containing a fifth of the world's surface freshwater may be irreversible, scientists warn.
Legislation pending in Congress would provide that needed intervention, but it comes at a whopping cost of $23.5 billion over the next five years, the largest environmental cleanup project in the nation's history.
The cost is worth it. Most of the money -- nearly $20 billion -- reauthorizes state revolving loan funds that assist communities in replacing antiquated sewer systems that discharge raw sewage into lake tributaries whenever it rains. Money would be available for tripling the rate of removing sediment from places such as the Grand Calumet River, the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal and other toxic sites, eliminating mercury from the environment and restoring wetland and wildlife habitat. Grants also would be available for cities to reclaim industrial areas on waterfronts.
Indiana communities are faced with huge bills for fixing sewers, replacing septic systems, removing toxic sediment and cleaning up the polluted legacy of a Rust Belt economy. Federal funds would significantly ease that burden and speed up the process.
For every billion dollars invested in the cleanup effort, 56,000 jobs are estimated to be created. The lakes already are a major tourist attraction, so improving them would increase tourism dollars spent in Indiana.
There have been piecemeal approaches to cleanup in the past. But if they are to survive, a far more comprehensive effort is needed. The proposed Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act is that undertaking. Indiana's congressional delegation needs to unite behind this legislation.