A partnership of federal, state and local officials proposed a 15-year, $20 billion plan Monday for cleaning up the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for 30 million people and a vital link in the nation’s shipping network.
The plan makes numerous recommendations on how to fix the lakes’ most pressing problems, including the proliferation of invasive species, the deterioration of animal habitats, toxic hot spots blamed on pollution and tainted wetlands and tributaries.
“We think it’s an excellent blueprint or guide for directing our collaborative efforts,” said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson. He was joined at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium by federal, state, local and tribal officials to unveil the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.
President Bush last year ordered the EPA to assemble the partnership to coordinate Great Lakes cleanup efforts. The move followed a Government Accountability Office report describing existing programs devoted to restoring the lakes as disjointed.
Eight states and two Canadian provinces border the lakes, which contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.
The plan is the result of more than a year of work. Among the partnership’s recommendations are restoring wetlands and other crucial habitat, and upgrading municipal sewers to stop the overflow of raw sewage into the lakes.
The partnership also called for new federal laws to prevent invasive species from entering the lakes, and reducing discharge of mercury, PCBs, dioxin, pesticides and other toxins into the lakes.
Environmental groups warned that the work needed to support the plan and to save the health of the lakes will take a commitment of $300 million in the fiscal 2007 federal budget. Supporters of the project said they will turn to Congress if $300 million to back the plan is not included in Bush’s budget.
“Congress has the ability to step in and, we’d argue, the responsibility to step in,” said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., said he supports the plan, but cautioned that this season’s devastating hurricanes changed the federal budget for years to come.
Mayor Richard Daley and the governors of the Great Lakes states have asked Bush to support the new funding.
“I am well aware that there are competing priorities and tight budgets,” Daley said. “However, investments we make now will prevent the need for far larger expenditures in the future.”
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said states are prepared to contribute financially. “If we hesitate to spend money, we will lose time, and we do not have time to lose,” he said.