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Great Lakes Article:

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 Midwest.

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

 



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