Video: Wrapping up big week of Great Lakes news

Mar 9, 2018

Over 100 advocates for the Great Lakes are in Washington D.C. this week, lobbying Congress to continue its bipartisan support on issues including pollution clean-up and drinking water protection.

This year’s Great Lakes Day is similar to last year’s – it has a lot to do with making sure the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative receives full funding - $300 million a year.  Trump’s latest budget proposal cuts that number down to $30 million.

The Healing Our Water – Great Lakes Coalition also has a list of priorities to mention in meetings with members of Congress – they include strengthening conservation programs in the new Farm Bill and protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species.

Alicia Smith of Toledo, Ohio’s Junction Coalition says members of Congress have been receptive to their concerns and comments, but she wants to bring those conversations back home. 

“It’s one thing to have these conversations [in Washington],” said Smith.  “But it’s more important for us to be able to take information like the Farm Bill back to the people who may not have the privilege of being here.”

Junction Coalition will host a meeting March 19 to share what Smith and others learned.

Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to combat harmful algal blooms.  The plan has two parts – a summary of what Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are doing, as well as an outline of what federal agencies are doing.

This is part of an agreement between the U.S. and Canada made in 2012 to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie’s western basin by 40 percent by 2025.  Canada released its plan last month.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Gail Hesse says the U.S. plan is an improvement on last year’s draft, but there’s still something missing.

“The NGO community I believe is looking for a bit more in terms of accountability,” said Hesse.  “What I mean by that is how do we answer the ‘what if’ questions? What if we don’t hit those benchmarks and targets, and what if the projections do not hold up for what we expect them to be?”

Another report out this week looks at water infrastructure and equity in the Great Lakes.  Released by the U.S. Water Alliance, the report points out nine strategies important to the region.  The report also presents real-life examples of communities improving their water system -- from helping struggling utilities to addressing lead in water. 

I asked Crystal Davis from the Alliance for the Great Lakes if there is room for full Great Lakes Restoration funding and the billions need to fix our region’s water infrastructure.

“There should be,” said Davis. “I know that may come at the expense of other programs, but it is time to prioritize what is important to the greatest amount of people.

“When you talk about water, it is worth the investment. This is a growing issue, it’s affecting our youth, it’s affecting our senior citizens, it’s affecting every segment of the population.”

Meanwhile, oral arguments took place this week as part of a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA. 

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Advocates For a Clean Lake Erie brought the lawsuit last year.  At question is whether western Lake Erie should be declared an impaired watershed under the Clean Water Act.

The organizations say Ohio has not been taking responsibility for addressing the algae bloom problem, and that EPA needs to step up and label western Lake Erie as impaired.

That determination triggers a long process that includes finding sources of pollution and limiting the amount sources can pollute.

“It all comes back to accountability,” said Madeline Fleisher, an attorney for the environmental law center.  “We’ve been suing U.S. EPA about making sure the impairment determination happens because that’s step one under the Clean Water Act.”

Fleisher calls the timing of oral arguments and Great Lakes Day a funny coincidence.

“I think people would be talking about both our court case and the U.S. plan they just put out no matter what, because everyone in this region knows that algal blooms on Lake Erie are a serious problem,” she said. “Whether it is Great Lakes Day or any other day, that’s a crisis that we have to solve.”

Note: President Trump's latest budget proposal cuts Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding down to $30 million, not $10 million as stated in the embedded video.