Restoring the Great Lakes
Gladwin County Record
A generation ago, the Great Lakes were a huge reservoir
of persistent toxic substances. Our fish were contaminated
with DDT and PCBs. Our fisheries were yielding significantly
less than historic highs, and the blue pike and species
of deep water ciscoes were extinct. Scientists were beginning
to understand that certain chemicals accumulate through
the food chain causing health concerns to fish, wildlife
In 1969, Michigan became the first state in the nation
to ban DDT and in 1976, the state developed strong regulations
on PCBs. In 1972, the United States and Canada signed
the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to restore and
maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity
of the Great Lakes. In the years that followed, there
were major reductions in pollution discharges as a result
of new standards, chemical bans, and improved sewage treatment.
The Great Lakes have definitely improved since the 1970s.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
estimates that the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act,
which I sponsored in 1990, will reduce direct toxic water
discharges by six to eight million pounds per year.
Since 1999, the EPA estimates that more than 1.7 million
cubic yards of contaminated sediment have been removed
or treated at a cost of more than $300 million in the
31 U.S. "Areas of Concern" in the Great Lakes.
These Areas of Concern were designated as such by the
1987 Protocol to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
because of severe pollution problems. Thirteen of these
severely degraded geographic areas are found in Michigan.
While aquatic invasive species continue to threaten Great
Lakes, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and its partners
have been able to reduce populations of one invasive species,
the sea lamprey, by 90 percent. Also, the electric barrier
in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal is proving to be
successful at preventing the Asian carp from entering
into the Great Lakes.
While the Great Lakes have made strides in recovering,
historical problems still exist and new problems are on
the horizon. We have been unable to keep pace with the
needs of the lakes. There are still hundreds of fish advisories
issued every year, and the number of beach closings seems
to be increasing. Lake Erie is once again experiencing
a "dead zone" from high levels of phosphorus.
Since the 1987 Protocol to the Great Lakes Water Quality
Agreement, our nation has not been able to fully restore
and delist any of the 31 U.S. Areas of Concern in the
In April, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released
a study that inventoried all of the federal and state
programs operating in the Great Lakes and looked at the
amount of money being spent. The GAO study found that
there is no over-arching strategy to restore the Great
Lakes, funding is limited, and there is inadequate data
to assess restoration efforts.
The GAO study shows that the federal government is simply
not keeping pace with the needs of the lakes. As co-chair
of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I have joined with
my co-chair, Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, and a coalition
of House members to reinvigorate efforts to protect the
In July, Senator DeWine and I, along with Senator Debbie
Stabenow and others, introduced the Great Lakes Environmental
Restoration Acts, which would provide up to $600 million
per year for restoration activities. This funding would
not replace existing programs; rather, it would add to
them. The legislation would improve coordination and efficiency
among the federal agencies working in the Great Lakes.
Finally, the bill would require the EPA to set up a federal
monitoring system in the Great Lakes to provide the data
that is needed to foster remediation projects and programs.
The Great Lakes are a unique treasure to the people of
Michigan and all Americans, and we are temporary stewards.
I believe that we must ensure that the federal government
meets its ongoing obligation to protect and restore the
Great Lakes. Congress must act to keep pace with the needs
of the lakes so that we can continue to build on the work
that has already been done.