Protecting the Great Lakes
By Lee Roberts
The Journal Times
Published November 22nd, 2004
RACINE - With nearly 20 percent of the Earth's fresh
surface water practically in our own back yard, how could
our drinking water supply be threatened?
That's one of the issues participants in a two-day summit
on the restoration of the Great Lakes came to Racine Sunday
to discuss. The first lake-wide summit, co-hosted by the
Johnson Foundation and the Lake Michigan Federation, is
being held at the Wingspread Conference Center and involves
more than 25 environmental organizations from around the
Its goal is to generate a united push for Great Lakes
legislation at a time when beach closings and sightings
of invasive species are becoming more prevalent.
"This is a monumental point in Great Lakes protection
history," said Cameron Davis, executive director,
of the Lake Michigan Federation as he addressed the group.
"There are three very big policy initiatives in Congress,
or on their way there," he said, referring to the
Great Lakes Annex Compact, Great Lakes Restoration Legislation
and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. "In
my 20 years doing public interest environmental work,
I've never seen three such big policy initiatives come
at the same time."
And monumental times call for big thinking and sharing
of ideas, Davis said, explaining the importance of groups
working together to reach the common goal of water conservation
and lake restoration.
"This is a partnership network in which we will
be learning from each other," he said. "Chances
are you've been down some road before - a road that someone
else is just going down for the first time now. And your
experience can help them."
Sunday's session included an overview of the Great Lakes
Annex Compact by Cheryl Mendoza, manager of the Lake Michigan
Federation's Water Conservation Programs, which included
information about threats to the Great Lakes water supply
such as mass bottling of water for shipment out of the
Great Lakes basin. Mendoza and Lynn Broaddus, executive
director of the Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, talked
about the strength and weaknesses of the compact and what
could be done to improve the policy, the final draft of
which is due to be sent to the government for approval
in spring of 2005.
Communication needed After the presentations, participants
broke off into brainstorming groups to develop ideas for
an action plan. Much of that plan centered on communication.
Participants, who came from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan
and throughout Wisconsin, said they felt a need for better
sharing of information about Great Lakes issues on local,
regional and national levels. They also talked of developing
a means for disseminating that information - perhaps a
central clearing house that could assist with scientific
data as well. And they pointed out the importance of knowing
what the opposition is thinking, and having the information
necessary to counter its arguments.
"The enthusiasm for thinking big about how we can
conserve water in the Great Lakes is definitely here,"
said Davis. "There is absolutely no one here who
thinks the time isn't right to make that happen."
Yet there are still a lot of people outside the summit
who feel that because the Great Lakes are so large, that
there is no way we can exhaust them, he said.
"What we've heard from the groups here today is
that we need to develop a better way of reaching people
to help them understand the need to conserve water, and
the need to do it now. It is incredibly vital that we
protect these vital resources."
In addition to being an essential natural resource, the
Great Lakes play an important role in the Midwest's economic
and transportation systems. More than 150,000 Americans
work in the Great Lakes shipping industry and recreation
is a $6 billion industry throughout the region.
Today's agenda Today's summit agenda includes sessions
on Great Lakes Restoration Legislation, the Great Lakes
Water Quality Agreement and the development of action
plans to carry out the work of the summit. Mayor Gary
Becker will speak at lunchtime, discussing the significant
role cities can play in protecting the Great Lakes.
Local groups represented at the summit include the River
Bend Nature Center, the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative
Network and Sustainable Racine.
For more information on the Lake Michigan Federation
and Great Lakes issues, visit: www.lakemichigan.org