Great Lakes backers thirst for restoration
By TOM HENRY BLADE STAFF WRITER
GREAT LAKES GOALS:
The Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission,
a binational government agency which helps coordinate
policy, wants congressmen to focus on the following seven
priorities this year:
Clean up more toxic hot spots.
Work harder to keep out non-native
biological threats, such as zebra mussels.
Curb erosion, as well as chemically
tainted runoff from streets, farms, golf courses, and
other so-called "nonpoint" sources of pollution.
Restore more wetlands and coastal
Do a better job of tracking trends
in water usage and in managing water withdrawals.
Improve funding for management and
Enhance the commercial and recreational
value of the lakes.
Source: Great Lakes Commission
WASHINGTON - Everglades envy.
It was unmistakable at the 33rd annual
Great Lakes congressional day yesterday, when regional
policymakers kept telling everyone how envious they were
of a Florida delegation that convinced Congress a couple
of years ago to allocate $8 billion to restore the Everglades.
Great Lakes officials would love to see
their region receive a Florida-like allocation to continue
the job of restoring the world's largest collection of
fresh surface water.
They acknowledged that's no small task,
given the number of seats the Great Lakes region is losing
in Congress because of population shifts.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
Director Chris Jones noted that it took Florida about
a dozen years to receive the money. He
admitted he is envious.
"You get $8 billion and people take
notice," said Mr. Jones, who chairs a Great Lakes
governors' priorities task force on behalf of Gov. Bob
Taft. "We want Everglades kind
of money," Mr. Jones added.
The event, split between the Rayburn
House and Dirksen Senate office buildings, was attended
by about 125 policymakers and staff members.
Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department
of Natural Resources, said he believes the Great Lakes
region can sell itself to Congress by showing that benefits
extend beyond the immediate area.
The lakes contain 20 percent of the Earth's
fresh surface water and are important to the economy as
a passageway for shipping and as a recreational draw.
Another influential step in that process
could be the degree to which Great Lakes programs impress
the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of
Congress. The GAO is examining the effectiveness of several
Great Lakes programs, the results of which could be "critical"
toward any funding pitches, Mr. DeWine said.
One encouraging sign at the event was
participation by a White House official who has helped
coordinate the Everglades restoration effort, he said.
William Leary, associate director for
natural resources for the Bush administration's Council
on Environmental Quality, said the country has entered
an era in which it needs do more than clean up contamination.
It needs to reverse mistakes from the past - such as filling
in valuable wetlands - so that ecosystems can be restored,
"Restoration speaks of optimism
- of hope, of change," said Mr. Leary, who has worked
on major restoration projects along coastal Louisiana
and the San Francisco Bay.
Seven basic and familiar goals - from
controlling exotic species to curbing pollution caused
by erosion and runoff - were outlined as regional themes
for the coming year by one of the event's co-sponsors,
the Great Lakes Commission.
The commission is a binational government
agency in Ann Arbor that helps coordinate policy.
Tom Skinner, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's administrator for the Great Lakes region, also
mentioned some lofty goals the agency expects to release
in a report later this year.
One is to have at least 90 percent of
all Great Lakes beaches clean enough to stay open 95 percent
of every summer by 2010.
Another is to have all 31 polluted harbors
and so-called "areas of concern" on the U.S.
side of the Great Lakes cleaned up by 2025.
"These goals are obviously ambitious,
but we believe they are achievable," Mr. Skinner
Not a lot was said about how coveted
the Great Lakes may become as other parts of the world
grow and continue to struggle to meet their water needs.
Joy Mulinex, spokeswoman for a task force
made up of Great Lakes congressmen, said federal legislators
probably will not address the issue of Great Lakes water
diversion or bulk exports until seeing the final version
of a plan to limit withdrawals that governors and Canadian
premiers signed in Niagara Falls in June. Congress
likely will be asked to ratify it in 2003.
President Bush caused a stir in the summer
by telling a group of foreign journalists he wouldn't
mind seeing Canadian water exported to his home state
as well as other Southwest states that are running dry.
The comment, made in passing, drew harsh
criticism from some of Canada's
Mr. Leary apparently tried to quell some
of those lingering concerns on behalf of Mr. Bush yesterday.
"There should be no straw in the Great
Lakes for diversion," he said.
John Mills, the highest-ranking Canadian
official in attendance, acknowledged that water "certainly
is rising on the agenda for many nations" and likely
will be a topic at a world summit in Johannesburg
The Great Lakes
have faced export pressure for years.
It could become harder as the years go
by for the United States
to keep defending the lakes from the international marketplace,
given that those two countries are the world's top water
consumers, Mr. Mills said. He is director general of Environment
"It's quite clear we have a long
way to go in terms of water conservation," he said.