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
The number of enforcement actions dropped 9 percent since
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
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
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
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
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.