More Great Lakes cleanup needed, some say
By Ellyn Ferguson
Detroit Free Press
Published January 27, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Great Lakes are less polluted than in the past, but U.S. efforts to improve water quality are hampered by unclear lines of responsibility and inadequate funding, a witness told lawmakers Wednesday.
"The future of the Great Lakes is uncertain," said Irene Brooks, acting chair of the U.S. section of the International Joint Commission.
The commission, made up of U.S. and Canadian members, works to resolve and prevent disputes between the two countries on the Great Lakes and rivers that straddle their borders. The Great Lakes basin includes parts of eight states and two Canadian provinces.
"Our view is that to speed up the cleanup, accountability is paramount," Brooks told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
The panel plans to consider legislation to toughen water-quality standards for the Great Lakes and authorize more money to control industrial pollution, wastewater discharges, agricultural runoff and invasive species, and to tackle contaminated sediments in the harbors along the lakes.
Brooks said the United States and Canada must make "a bold commitment" to improve water quality and ensure that fish, water and beaches are safe.
That could be an expensive commitment.
Just cleaning 25 of the most contaminated U.S. areas -- including the lower Green Bay-Fox River area -- would cost more than $7.4 billion, Brooks said.
Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency, said he wanted to focus on successes with the Great Lakes, but "we face significant issues and emerging challenges."
Among those challenges are extensive green algae growth along shorelines and the spread of aquatic weeds fed by fertilizer runoff and exposed to the sun by falling water levels.
The lower water levels are partly attributable to greater evaporation caused by climate change, which is warming the lakes and speeding evaporation.