Meeting's focus is Great Lakes
International conference to look for solutions to water
diversion, contamination, climate change, invasive species
By Tracy Davis
Ann Arbor News
On Friday and Saturday, hundreds of scientists and policy
makers will descend on Ann Arbor for the International
Joint Commission's biennial conference on the Great Lakes.
The conference convenes every couple of years in a different
city in the Midwest or Canada to assess the world's largest
freshwater lake system, discuss new threats posed by water
diversion, contamination, climate change and other issues,
share research, and this year, to jump-start a discussion
about restoring the lakes' health.
"Restoring the Greatness," the theme for this
year's conference, will be no easy task.
The lakes face many threats. Invasive species are choking
out native life. Many states outside the Great Lakes region
have their eyes on the world's largest source of fresh
water. Shoreline development has increased runoff and
pollution to delicate shallow water habitat. Mercury and
other chemicals have hurt the fishing industry while beach
closings threaten tourism.
And everyone has different plans for fixing the problems.
Agencies, governments, nonprofit groups and businesses
have a huge interest in policies governing the lakes,
which hold 20 percent of the world's fresh water.
In Ann Arbor alone, there are at least seven Great Lakes
agencies, including the Great Lakes Commission and the
Great Lakes Information Network, the Great Lakes Fisheries
Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey's Great Lakes Science
Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and Michigan
How does everyone get on the same page in planning a
comprehensive and fair restoration effort that balances
the needs and desires of farmers, cities, businesses and
environmental groups while ensuring the preservation of
the lakes' beauty and health?
Dennis Schornack, chair of the U.S. Section of the International
Joint Commission, looks to the Everglades restoration
project in Florida as a potential model.
The key difference is that Florida is only one state.
The Great Lakes are bordered by two nations with eight
states and two provinces.
"The whole idea is that it's going to be difficult
to clean up the Great Lakes unless we have a central restoration
plan that we can follow," said the international
commission's spokeswoman, Jennifer Day. "Everyone
is trying to come up with a plan that can work, and right
now we have different restoration bills going through
Congress. We thought it would be very beneficial to bring
all these groups together."
The conference, expected to draw more 400 to town, begins
Friday with panels and workshops for paid registrants.
Saturday is free of charge and open to the public for
participation in question-and-answer sessions and a "town
Some of those scheduled to speak or host panels include
researchers, scientists, administrators, lawmakers and
policy specialists from the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
the Great Lakes Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey,
the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry, the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Council of Great Lakes
Industries and various universities and Canadian governments.
The conference has been held in years past in Milwaukee,
Niagara Falls, Windsor, Montreal, and Duluth, Minn.