Superior Alliance joins with Waterkeepers to protect freshwater
O'Brien The Ashland
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
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
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
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
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
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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