A little Great Lakes unity
Published July 20, 2005
AMERICA's inland seas, the Great Lakes, are perhaps the
most striking symbol of how bountiful are the resources
of the United States. The lakes, into which we have poured
the refuse from cities, farms, and industrial enterprises,
have long been short-changed by a federal government which
is unaccustomed to thinking in long-range terms.
On the face of it, the Bush Administration's task force
report on Great Lakes cleanup seems to make a start in
that direction, and some observers have so stated. A tentative
price tag of $20 billion has been put on this project,
although Benjamin Grumbles, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's assistant administrator of water, would not,
or more likely could not, verify that figure.
By comparison the Florida Everglades restoration project,
in one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, is
estimated to cost $8 billion. That figure might put the
tentative Great Lakes cleanup price tag in a better perspective.
The economic stakes are high enough. The Great Lakes
comprise 90 percent of the nation's surface fresh water.
They provide drinking water for 30 million people and
generate a $50 billion recreational industry, with Lake
Erie alone contributing to an estimated 50,000 jobs.
Roughly $14 billion would be allocated to upgrading the
antiquated sewage systems of Great Lakes cities. The cost
of upgrading Toledo's system - like that of other communities,
it is long out of compliance with standards - is $450
million alone. The task force envisions a 55 percent federal
share, with the rest coming from the states. That is not
a given, considering the budget shortfalls in many states.
Complaints already have been heard that the task force
plan is too costly and too complex. But the Great Lakes
are under siege from urban pollution, agricultural run-off,
toxic hot spots stemming from short-sighted industrial
development, and discharges from ships that have introduced
invasive species like zebra mussels into the lakes.
With 27 percent of the congressional representation (and
electoral votes), the eight Great Lakes states must put
up a united front to protect the wondrous resource that
borders them and to finally insist that the lakes must
no longer be treated as a convenient sump for a pollution-prone