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Editorial: Hats off to Ehlers and Levin for bill to protect Great Lakes
The Oakland Press

Web-posted Apr 19, 2006

If defenders of the Great Lakes once didn't have their acts together, that's no longer the case. Less than a month after representatives of the region were told in a Capitol Hill hearing by lawmakers that they were unprepared, a comprehensive and coherent lakes-protection bill has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. Chief sponsors are Republican Rep. Vern Ehlers of Grand Rapids and Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin.

It's a $32 billion measure, but $20 billion of that would be a loan for local municipalities that need to clean up sanitary sewer systems whose fi nal discharge ends up in the Great Lakes. In the grand scheme of the federal budget, this ought to be affordable, and it certainly is long overdue.

Recent news stories have told about sports fishing on the Great Lakes, an important local business in many communities, and how it's suffering. That's because alien zebra mussels have resulted in few and smaller salmon.

The mussels, which have been around for at least a decade, eat part of the food salmon depend on.

A new law wouldn't help that, but it could head off Asian carp trying to enter Lake Michigan via the Illinois River. They weigh up to 100 pounds and would join the zebra mussels in decimating salmon, whitefish and trout populations in the Great Lakes.

The bill would pay to operate a dispersal barrier against the huge carp.

The legislation would also ban the careless introduction of the mussels and other alien species, such as the lamprey eel, into Great Lakes waters. That still goes on as foreign ships dump contaminated ballast taken on overseas.

In addition, the bill would fund the removal of 350,000 pounds of harmful chemicals from the Kalamazoo River, which empties into Lake Michigan.

The legislation also attempts to address one of the complaints from otherwise sympathetic members of Congress. They said there were too many overlapping programs and invited those involved to ³get their act together.²

So the bill requires that the 33 federal and 17 state lakes-improvement programs somehow be coordinated. That leaves us with the question of how it can realistically be enforced. The suspicion is that it simply would give the government a license to withhold funds in the face of willful, egregious, unnecessary and counterproductive duplications of effort - waste, in other words.

We in Oakland County know that what happens to the Great Lakes can spread - 47 of our inland lakes now are infested with zebra mussels. That's thanks to clueless and uncaring boaters who brought their craft from the big lakes to inland launch sites without hosing off any mussels.

Since the Great Lakes were opened to oceangoing vessels by creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway 50 years ago, 180 foreign species have been carried into our once-sheltered waters. The erection of legal and physical barriers against contamination of various types has been overdue since the beginning.

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