More than $20 billion. That's the number being tossed about in connection with a massive, and ambitious, plan to keep the Great Lakes from turning into an ecological wasteland.
Of course, the five Great Lakes are big. They hold roughly 20 percent of Earth's fresh surface water and supply drinking water to 27 million people.
The $20 billion number was attached last week to legislation introduced to Congress. The legislation's goal is to reverse decades of misuse, overuse and degradation. Can it succeed? That's a good question.
How great are the problems? The legislation, citing a scientific report issued in December, says the Great Lakes are on the brink of "an ecologic catastrophe." Spawning this collapse are toxic chemicals, human waste, chemical soups running off agricultural lands, invasive species, and overfishing.
The legislation says more than 1,800 beaches were closed in 2003 because of various contamination and that Lake Erie sees a "6,300 square-mile dead zone" form every summer. As for invasive species, non-native zebra mussels alone cause $500 million worth of economic and environmental damage each year in the five lakes.
In a bid to get some control over these problems, the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives.
Why am I telling you about this? Because there are a slew of National Park Service properties either directly or indirectly affected by the health of the Great Lakes. Most notable are Isle Royale National Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
As I noted above, this measure is ambitious. It aims to stymie invasive species, halt the dumping of sewage into the lakes, clean up existing toxic pollution, restore wildlife habitat, and rehabilitate wetlands so they could serve as natural filters for runoff
"This bill gets it right," says National Parks Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan. "It offers practical solutions to urgent problems facing the Great Lakes. This bill deserves support from anyone who cares about clean drinking water, safe beaches, and healthy fish and wildlife."
You can learn more about this effort at the Great Lakes Restoration web site.