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Great Lakes Article:

Editorial: Letís reverse trend on water quality in Great Lakes
The Sheboygan Press

The progress made on cleaning the waters of the Great Lakes basin following the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 was heartening.

Rules limiting emissions and setting an ambitious goal of eliminating all toxic chemical releases by 1985 led to dramatic improvements in water quality for two decades.

But that trend is reversing. A series of special report in The Detroit News of the Gannett Corp. in recent days said that while no one still expects to be able to eliminate all toxic releases, much more can be done.

The series titled "Great Lakes polluters dump without fear" points out that:

Known releases of toxic chemicals into the lakes and rivers of the basin increased from 12.5 million pounds to 15.7 million pounds between 1996 and 2001.

Three-quarters of the nationís largest 6,500 industrial and sewer plants on the Great Lakes have violated the law in the last two years.

The percentage of the biggest polluters cited for "significant noncompliance" rose from 16 to 24 percent between 1994 and 2001.

A 1991 investigation by the U.S. General Accounting Office, Congressí investigative arm, found that toxic release levels are 20 times higher than what is reported to the government.

The number of enforcement actions dropped 9 percent since 1999.

There are many reasons behind these disturbing statistics. One is a lack of money and resources to property enforce the laws. At the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís budgets and staffs have been whittled down. Strong state enforcers like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have also been reduced and our new state budget decreases the resources available for enforcing the laws.

As a result agencies are forced to only go after the worst offenders and the number of serious enforcement actions have dropped 9 percent since 1999.

Whatís needed are more resources devoted to enforcement. In addition, stricter enforcement are needed such as New Jerseyís new regulation that establishes mandatory penalties for violations.

The government should also look to lowering the amounts of pollution that are permitted.

More funding should go for improving the technology to monitor releases and to clean them up pollutants.

The funding for mopping up past pollution is also woefully inadequate. The Bush administration has asked for $270 million for cleanup of existing pollution in lake and river sediments; critics claim the necessary amount is $6 billion.

Besides reasserting tighter regulations on the pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, much more must be done on the so-called "non-point" pollution such as runoff from urban areas, construction sites and farm fields.

While no one can expect the Great Lakes to be completely toxin-free in the coming years, we owe it to ourselves and to coming generations to reverse the trends of recent years and continue the progress toward better and better water quality that started in the 1970s.

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