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Great Lakes Article:

Fighting to save Great Lakes is worth the effort
By Mary Meehan
Special to the Press
The Grand Rapids Press
Published March 15, 2008

I'm not a scientist, however, like many of us in Michigan, I love the Great Lakes. Recently, I had the chance to show my love for our wonderful, but endangered lakes. I attended an educational training put on by the Sierra Club, which focused on the health of the Great Lakes.

The problems confronting the lakes are daunting. Invasive species, habitat destruction, polluted runoff, sewage contamination and toxic pollution have rendered too many of our beaches unswimmable and fish inedible. Plus, there is the growing threat of water diversion.

But there is hope.

Current legislation is pending in both the state and federal levels, which could make or break the recovery effort of the national treasure where I've wiled away summer days since I was a child.

As a volunteer representative of the Sierra Club, I went to Washington, D.C., to participate in Great Lakes Day 2008. The event was sponsored by Healthy Waters, a coalition of more than 90 organizations representing millions of residents in the Great Lakes states whose goal is to restore and protect the lakes.

When I arrived the day before the event for another training session -- this one focused on pending Federal legislation -- there was a sense of urgency in the air. There was also a sense of unity. Scientists, conservationists, sportsmen and women, business people, politicians, and concerned citizens like me, want to make a difference.

More than 250 people from the eight states and two Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes were there to urge legislators to support four pieces of legislation that will affect the future of the lakes.

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's fresh water and provides drinking water for 42 million people. Encouraging congressional decision-makers to implement programs and policies to protect and restore the waters is vital.

When I returned home after two days in Washington, I was tired, but hopeful and happy to be among those working toward a solution.

The Great Lakes are a national treasure. But they are far from protected. Last year, more than 23 billion gallons of raw sewage was dumped into the lakes. Two-thirds of the wetlands which protect the Great Lakes and filter out pollutants have been destroyed. Two billion gallons of water are diverted from Lake Michigan every day in Chicago alone and there is one new invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes every three months.

It will be costly to clean up and protect the lakes, but in a state which has not recovered from the downturn in the auto industry, how can we afford not to protect our lakes?

Legislation protecting against invasive species and providing funding to clean up polluted sites needs to be passed at the federal level. At the state level, the Great Lakes Compact, which addresses water diversion, needs to be passed. The compact, when passed in all eight states bordering the Great Lakes, will provide a powerful platform for federal legislation that can help protect the lakes in the same way that the Grand Canyon receives protection.

One citizen can make a difference. Maybe not alone, but when joined by hundreds or thousands of others, a loud presence can be felt. Now is the time to act to be part of the solution.

-- Mary Meehan, a volunteer representative of the Sierra Club, lives in Grand Rapids.

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