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Great Lakes Article:

Lake Superior Alliance joins with Waterkeepers to protect freshwater resources
Kevin O'Brien
The Ashland Daily Press

Displaying images alternating between beautiful landscapes and unsettling evidence of pollution, Bob Olsgard of the Lake Superior Alliance visited Ashland Tuesday night and announced his organization's intent to join with the national Waterkeepers program to protect the resources provided by the largest source of freshwater in the world.

The meeting at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center was the eighth stop of the Alliance on a 10-stop tour of the Northland.

Olsgard admitted that since the Alliance was formed in 1992, it has fallen short of its goals to strengthen enforcement of water use regulations by mobilizing different citizen groups for promoting the protection of Lake Superior.

However, he has not given up the idea that there is a way to bring together all of the groups, and he thinks the Waterkeepers could help them accomplish this.

"I would hate to start something and not finish it," Olsgard said. "What drives my work is that there has to be a way for people to live and work in this area without encroaching on the very heart of what he have."

One of the goals the Alliance has reached is decreasing the amount of discharge from paper mills along the lakeshore, in some cases bringing the amount of output to as low as 2 percent.

Still, when school kids in Duluth are encouraged to drink something other than the water out of Lake Superior, Olsgard said there are still many problems with water quality that are not being addressed.

The Waterkeepers would help the Alliance create a network of citizens, experts, and lawyers who would immediately respond to potential threats to the water or lakeshore anywhere along Lake Superior, spanning from the United States to Canada.

According to Olsgard, the main purpose of the Waterkeepers-endorsed program would be to "educate, negotiate and if necessary, litigate" against any private or municipal interest that would be endangering Lake Superior.

The national Waterkeepers organization began its efforts by cleaning up the Hudson River, and has since spawned many local and regional franchises to protect various types of watersheds, from rivers and creeks to ocean coasts.

Getting the program going would require hiring at least one full-time water-keeper, in addition to raising support and money for it.

"We are going to have some problems setting this up," Olsgard said. "What I need right now, the reason I came here tonight, is that I need your help."

Anyone interested in participating in the Lake Superior Alliance and the formation of the Waterkeepers can contact Olsgard at 1-888-281-1755 or visit the Alliance's Web site at

Jen Nalbone, habitat and biodiversity coordinator for the Great Lakes United, also delivered presentations about the problems posed by the U.S. Army Corpsís Navigation Study, which is the first step in a plan to deepen and widen the waterways connecting the Great Lakes to allow more international vessels to enter the area.

One of the proposed options of this plan would be to replace the St. Lawrence lock and dam, deepening the canals by up to 30 or 35 feet, at a cost of $10 billion.

The environmental concerns generated by this project include the invasion of more exotic species from international traffic, the dredging up of thousands of miles of ports with toxic substances, and the dropping of water levels in the upper lakes.

The U.S. House and Senate are currently considering bills to fund a feasibility study for the project, totaling $2.7 million in federal support.

Nalbone encouraged the audience to contact their local legislators to find out their stance on this issue and to also educate them about the negative environmental and economic effects of the project.

In the second part of her presentation, Nalbone discussed the Annex 2001 agreement, which would prevent any type of water diversion or withdrawal from the Lake Superior basin, including bottled water companies and local governments looking to reroute waterways.

A draft of the agreement is supposed to be presented this summer, and she is hoping that it will be made into a legally binding one by 2004.

Mike Gardner, board member of the Alliance, wrapped up the evening by saying that local governments and private industries often do not foresee the "unintended consequences" of their actions, and it is up to activist organizations and citizens to take preemptive steps to protect Lake Superior.

"It isn't about going to meeting after meeting and watching the government work," Gardner said. "It's about getting involved in a hands-on way in the field."
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