U.S. budget crimps Great Lakes research
CLEVELAND - With a possible war pending in Iraq, the Great
Lakes will face even stiffer competition for federal research
dollars, which could hurt tourism and even drive up industry
The need for more priority-setting isn't lost on some 400
scientists and policymakers attending the State of the Lakes
Ecosystem Conference here, a biennial summit sponsored by
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Canadian
counterpart, Environment Canada.
From bait shops to beachfront hotels, the tourist industry
counts on researchers to keep pace with emerging issues,
such as the mysterious dead zone in Lake Erie's central
Factories, water treatment plants, and power generators
have a vested interest as well, to the degree that they
want to know how much zebra mussels and other intruders
can drive up costs by clogging intakes.
This year's forum goes beyond merely providing an update
on scattered events such as beach closings that kept swimmers
out of the water and botulism outbreaks that killed fish
and birds. It delves into the nitty-gritty of deciding what
types of data - called biological indicators - are best
to use as sentinels to obtain a more panoramic view of the
basin's ecological health.
It's not new research methodology, but it is getting more
refined - in part, officials said, because money is getting
Dennis Schornack, the International Joint Commission's U.S.
chairman, said yesterday that two bills in Congress have
made him optimistic about Great Lakes funding. One calls
for $250 million over five years to remove toxic sediment;
the other calls for unspecified millions to help close the
door on invasive species.
But he and others are fully aware that financial challenges
were looming even before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed
the nation's agenda.
The Great Lakes region lost several votes in Congress as
a result of population shifts documented in the 2000 Census.
That hasn't stopped area officials from repeatedly showing
their envy over an $8 billion dollar package that Florida
officials got a couple of years ago to restore the Everglades.
"People are feeling a little Everglades envy," Mr. Schornack
said. Any optimism, he said, will be tempered if Middle
East tensions escalate.
Tom Skinner, U.S. EPA Midwest region administrator, said
the issue isn't whether President Bush recognizes the value
of the lakes, which together hold 20 percent of the world's
fresh surface water.
"The issue is competing for dollars when things are so stagnant,"
George Kuper of the Council of Great Lakes Industries in
Ann Arbor, which represents many of the region's largest
industry groups, said priority-setting is more important
than ever so policy decisions will be based on research
dollars spent wisely.
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