Trying to protect the Great Lakes: 12/18/06
By Carl Levin
WASHINGTON — As those of us who live in Michigan know, the Great Lakes are awe inspiring. They are also an indispensable natural, economic and recreational resource for Michigan and many other states. The largest fresh water system in the world with roughly 18 percent of the world’s fresh water, the Great Lakes provide drinking water for more than 30 million people.
However, the Great Lakes face a host of ongoing challenges, including threats to water quality, low water levels, contaminated sediments and the impacts of more than 160 non-native species. With so much at stake, it is critical that we make a serious commitment to the long-term health of the lakes.
The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration strategy, released in 2005, is a joint effort among governors, mayors, congressional leaders, executive branch officials and tribal governments to establish a framework for restoring and protecting the Great Lakes. The Regional Collaboration calls for an ambitious commitment of resources to combat invasive species and contaminated sediments, improve water infrastructure for states and cities, and restore damaged fish and wildlife habitats.
Congress recently passed one part of that plan, the bipartisan Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, which I cosponsored with my Republican colleague from Ohio, Sen. Mike DeWine, with whom I serve as Chairman of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force.
Enacted in 1990 and reauthorized in 1998 and 2006, the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act authorizes funding for the restoration of the lakes. The 2006 act authorizes $9.4 million for a grant program to help restore the Great Lakes and the fish and wildlife habitats they sustain. For example, a grant helped fund a study, done in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Central Michigan University and Michigan State University, of the impact of cormorants on Great Lakes fish communities.
This year’s bill also authorized $4.6 million for new regional projects to be carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based on the recommendations of states and tribes. This will give the Fish and Wildlife Service the flexibility to pursue projects that go beyond a single location or jurisdiction.
Finally, the bill provides funding to maintain the Fish and Wildlife Service offices originally created in 1990. The Fish and Wildlife Service will also be required to submit reports to Congress detailing the grants that have been awarded and the results of those grants. With transparency in the grant process and with local offices overseeing their work, I am hopeful we will see measurable results that can be evaluated and adjusted accordingly in the future.
The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration has provided a valuable blueprint for progress, but we still face serious challenges in implementing the plan. The Administration’s 2007 budget proposal failed to include funding for almost every recommendation. It is time to make the tough choices necessary to fulfill the federal government’s obligation to preserve and restore the Great Lakes for future generations.
Though the lakes face great challenges, we have seen in Michigan that responsible policies can be successful. In October, I joined Representatives John D. Dingell and John Conyers in releasing whitefish into the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Despite their abundance in the Detroit River at the turn of the 20th century, whitefish were all but wiped out by the 1920s due to industrial pollution and dredging.
This May, evidence of whitefish spawning was discovered in the Detroit River for the first time in 90 years. The passage of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in 2001 and sound environmental legislation like the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Legacy Act combined to help clean up the Detroit River so the whitefish could rebound. It is remarkable how resilient nature can be, but it’s up to us to do our part.
I am pleased that the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act will bring to fruition some important pieces of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration. Still, there is much to be done. The lakes are a unique treasure, and we must recognize that we are only their temporary stewards.