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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes need help-Bill would protect water
By Neil Rhines
Manitowoc Herald Times

MANITOWOC - The eastern boundary of Manitowoc County needs restoration and increased protection, according to bi-partisan federal legislation currently before the Senate Environemental and Public Works Committee.

The Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act would go a long way to preserving the Great Lakes, proponents, including Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, have said.

An estimated 40 million people rely on the Great Lakes as their primary source of drinking water.

"This bill would assist in the preservation and recovery of this vital natural resource," Feingold said in a letter urging action on the bill.

The bill would create a federal monitoring and data collection system for water quality.

Also, the bill would create an oversight board and federal council to coordinate the agencies that oversee the Great Lakes.

The coordinating of agencies and budgets is like a breath of fresh air to Russ Tooley.

"From the Centerville CARES point of view, there are so many overlapping agencies," said Tooley, president of the grassroots environmental group. "If this would facilitate agencies working together, I would be all for it."

Tooley believes a means of streamlining testing methods would be very beneficial so data can be compared between various agencies like the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the UW-Milwaukee Great Lakes WATER Institute and others.

Charles Verhoeven, regional water program leader for the DNR, said the bill sounds great at the outset, and said that any bill that works to combat invasive species and improve water quality, among other things, has his full support.

Attempts have already been made at an all-encompassing database, and Verhoeven said he can see the value in adopting the same testing methods, but he does have concerns that a well-intentioned bill could simply create another expensive bureacracy.

"They are dealing the right issues; I dont know if they have the right mechanism," Verhoeven said.

Verhoeven said hed have reservations should the potential agency adopt a one-size-fits-all mentality to problem solving, and said that the local and state agencies already working to solve these problems need to be allowed to keep their flexibility.

The advisory board and council would be composed of, among others, the eight governors of the Great Lakes states, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Finally, the legislation would establish about $600 million in grants for each fiscal year between 2004 and 2013 to help solve problems like contaminated sediment cleanup, wetland restoration, invasive species control and prevention, coastal wildlife and fisheries habitat improvement and water quality improvement.

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