work on plan to make lakes great John C. Kuehner
Ohio Plain Dealer
is gripping leaders across the Great Lakes region.
It's the green
of the Everglade that afflicts them with jealousy. Not
the green of lush plant life, but the green of cash -
as in $8 billion.
That's how much
money the federal government will spend in an ambitious
30-year plan to restore the thousands of square miles
of ecologically crucial but degraded Florida swamp.
Leaders in this
region want that kind of money to restore the Great Lakes.
notice of what Florida got," said Chris Jones, who heads
the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. "Even in Washington,
that's a lot of money."
But before the
region can get Everglades kind of money, it needs a plan.
So for more than
a year, the governors of the eight Great Lakes states
have been putting one together, and representatives met
here last week to discuss ways to build partnerships to
restore the lakes. Next month, they will release a report.
The report will
outline their natural-resource-enhancement goals for the
probably will focus on these issues:
Cleanup of toxic
sediments and contaminated areas. The Great Lakes area
has 42 highly polluted spots, including four in Ohio:
the Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Black and Maumee rivers. Those
tainted sediments, the residues of almost a century of
industrialization, can mix back into the water if disturbed.
Also, mussels and other bottom-dwellers absorb the pollutants
and pass them on to creatures that eat them.
Control of non-native
species - fish, bugs and plants that typically arrive
in seagoing ships, then spread to choke out native life,
disrupt the food chain and throw the ecosystem into chaos.
and treaties governing the removal of water from the Great
Lakes for use outside the region.
and untreated wastes out of the water. Sewage treatment
plants already must meet tight standards on their direct
discharges. But the sewers that feed to them overflow,
and remedying that problem is a multibillion-dollar challenge
the region is beginning to address.
protecting wetlands and coastal habitats. Besides giving
lake-region creatures and migratory birds a place to live
and hide, wetlands also filter out sediments, fertilizers
and other taints that otherwise flow into the lakes. Yet
many of them have been drained or degraded.
runoff. Rushing rainwater washes oil and other pollutants
off parking lots, roads and roofs, and many argue that
such slop should be treated at sewage plants or prevented
from entering the lakes.
and economic issues, such as transportation and tourism
on the Great Lakes.
last three decades of environmental awareness, billions
of dollars have been spent on curbing the dumping of pollution
from factories and other "point sources" into the lakes
and the waterways that feed them. That has improved the
water's chemistry and life dramatically, but the remaining
problems are more vexing.
could mean sweeping changes to agricultural practice,
tremendous effort to restore and re-create the wetlands
and swamps that once ringed the lakes and perhaps an unprecedented
effort to reduce "nonpoint" pollution running off the
land instead of pouring out of pipes.
All of it would
cost money - a lot of it.
"The scale of
something like this has not been attempted before in the
Great Lakes region," said Mike Donahue, who heads the
Great Lakes Commission, an agency that represents the
eight Great Lakes states and two provinces of Canada.
Such a plan has
the backing of the region's representatives in Washington.
In fact, the
Great Lakes congressional delegation gave the governors
a nudge to put together the priority list in a letter
sent in March 2001.
Florida had organized,
prepared and identified specific goals, and it still took
more than a decade to get the funding. Congress signed
off on the colossal undertaking about two years ago.
In the years
after World War II, the federal government and Florida
spent vast sums altering the Everglades.
Up went dams
and dikes to drain some of the mammoth marsh and protect
development around it from flooding. Drinking-water treatment
plants pulled water from the surface and underground rivers
that feed the swamp to supply growing communities. Levees
and pumps steered hundreds of millions of gallons of water
a year into the sea to make way for sugar-cane plantations
and other agriculture.
the drying, dying, polluted Everglades swamp shrank to
half of its 8 million acres, causing a groundwater-depletion
crisis, the threat of extinction for scores of plant and
wildlife species and an outcry from preservationists.
The plan now
is to remove many of the artificial barriers, restore
natural water flow and use reservoirs to recapture water
that had been sent out to sea and recirculate it through
the marshes. This, advocates hope, will bring life back.
It took years
and some watering down to appease agricultural interests,
but the restoration idea prevailed. One of the strong
proponents was Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
In the Great
Lakes, the challenges are complicated by the potentially
conflicting interests of eight states and Canada. Plus,
it's more difficult to put responsibility on the federal
government because, unlike the Everglades, it did not
directly mandate and pay for projects that caused most
of the degradation.
So it made sense
that Washington sought the governors' support and wants
them to organize and unify now.
"We really have
not gotten our fair share of the federal money, and one
of the reasons is, we have not had a strategy, we have
not had goals," said Sen. Mike DeWine, one of 19 elected
officials who signed the letter. "You don't get anything
unless you know what you want."
The idea is that
the governors' priority list will lead to congressional
funding next year for a study, which the EPA's Jones said
might be done by 2005.
That plan could
then prompt Congress to provide funding for restoration
"It's going to
take something that big to get the changes we want," said
Jeffrey Busch, who heads the Ohio Lake Erie Commission,
a state agency. "Not to decrease the importance of the
Everglades, but you can make a bigger case for the national,
and international, importance of the Great Lakes."
The General Accounting
Office is now tallying up how much money the federal government
has spent over the last five years to improve the Great
Lakes. When it's done in February, the GAO report will
be compared with the governors' priority list to find
the funding gaps.
If there are
not enough challenges, here's another problem: Great Lakes
leaders are not the only ones with Everglades envy.
The $8 billion
has set off a scramble across the country to come up with
restoration plans. Competition includes coastal Louisiana,
San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound.
The Great Lakes
region enjoys fairly strong political clout in Washington:
16 senators and 134 representatives. But come January,
the region will lose nine seats to the water-starved South
and West. But the 125 who remain are more than a quarter
of the House.
"If we exercise
the political clout, we can, over time, get things done,"
DeWine said. "The reality is we need all of us to wake
up and understand that the country as a whole needs to
make more of an investment in our future. We need to be
in there with our plan. Unless you have a plan, you don't
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