Congress Takes a Step Toward Restoring the Great Lakes

President Bush isn't going to like this.

The House of Representatives has adopted an Interior Appropriations Bill that contains more money than he proposed for the agency. But would the president veto funding that would help clean up sewage in the Great Lakes and work to stop the spread of invasive, non-native species in the lakes?

The bill contains $37 million for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which is a $7 million bump from current funding. How will that money be spent? As currently proposed, it would go towards cleaning up toxic sediments currently lodged in the bottom of harbors in the Great Lakes and rivers tied to them.

U.S. Representative Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, also saw that funding was provided to pay for a permanent electric barrier to keep non-native Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan via the Illinois River. I'm told the current temporary barrier, located in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, is in pretty poor condition and with Asian carp spotted about 20 or so miles away, it's critical that a new barrier be installed to keep these voracious fish out of the lakes.

Of what interest is this to national parks? Well, don't forget that Isle Royale National Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, as well as a small handful of other national park system units, are located on the Great Lakes. Keeping the lakes clean and healthy helps keep those parks clean and healthy.

Watching the Interior budget with keen interest are the folks behind the Healing Our Waters--Great Lakes Coalition, which is keeping pressure on Congress to clean up the Great Lakes ecosystem. Among the involved organizations are the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Conservation Association.

"This budget is a critical step forward for the Great Lakes, our economy, and our way of life," says Jeff Skelding, who is the national campaign manager for the coalition.

Here's a glimpse of other Great Lakes-related funding contained in the House bill:

* $1.1 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which finances projects to update aging water infrastructure with a goal of stopping sewage pollution in the Great Lakes;

* $560,000 for the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, which provides grants to states and tribes to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat, and;

* $9.9 million for the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act, which helps states surrounding the Great Lakes to standardize, test, and implement beach and coastal assessments so as to provide safe conditions for beachgoers;

"The boost to Great Lakes programs comes at the right time for the millions of Great Lakes citizens who have seen their beaches fouled, fishery decimated, and utility bills increase due to sewage contamination, invasive species, and other threats plaguing the lakes," Mr. Skelding says. "We have solutions to these problems. It is now time to use them."

The Senate is expected to take up the appropriations bill next month.

Comments

When I was on Lake Erie last week, I heard a lot from an Ohio State University scientist about the need for shipping ballast regulation. In looking at what's happening in the Great Lakes and other coastal areas, have you come across any legislation on this issue? I would think that would be a touchy one in Great Lakes states that depend on trade and yet are wary of the trade imbalance. Invasive species from Russia via China coming on trading boats doesn't go over well in the industrial areas. I was just wondering given how passionately he was pressing the need for this kind of regulation because of the ecological damage being caused.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim,

I'll have to double-check, but I believe current regs require ships to swap their ballast at sea before coming down the St. Lawrence Seaway. But I've been wrong before....;-)

Kurt