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Protecting the Great Lakes an ongoing task

April 24, 2012
Sen. Carl Levin , Daily Press

WASHINGTON - The Great Lakes are many things: drivers of America's economy, invaluable links in our transportation system, source of drinking water for millions, vast spaces for recreation, and source of identity and culture. As the weather warms up and we celebrate Earth Day, it's worth reminding ourselves of why the lakes are so important and of our responsibilities as their stewards.

A few weeks ago, I joined with Sen. Ron Kirk of Illinois, my co-chair on the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, and other Great Lakes lawmakers to advocate for important programs as Congress considers the 2013 budget.

In letters to our colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee, we focused on the following:

Support for the president's funding request for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which addresses invasive species, contamination and pollution, and encourages government agencies at all levels of government to work together to protect the lakes. Continued funding is vital for a whole host of restoration and protection efforts, and produced measurable results.

The need to extend the Army Corps of Engineers' emergency authority to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species from the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes. The electric fence in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the main link between the river and the lakes, is an important aspect of this. But as concerns grow about the possibility that Asian carp and other damaging species could find other ways into the lakes, we asked appropriators to ensure that the Corps' authority covers any potential water pathway.

Support for the International Joint Commission, which monitors and supports cross-boundary environmental needs of the Great Lakes between the U.S. and Canada, and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which works to prevent the spread of the aggressive, invasive species such as the sea lamprey. These bodies help ensure that international borders and boundaries between states, localities and tribal governments do not hamper our efforts to protect the lakes.

Support for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Zone Management Program, which gives states grant opportunities to work with the federal government to protect and restore coastal zone areas across the nation, including the Great Lakes region.

It's significant that Great Lakes lawmakers of both parties are working together to support these important efforts. But our work does not end with these programs.

I've also encouraged my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to boost funding for other efforts to block the spread of Asian carp and for research into longer-term and less expensive solutions to the Asian carp problem. We should fund efforts to analyze on an urgent basis the separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds to prevent the spread of invasive species. We need to continue strong funding for efforts to control the sea lamprey. And I've asked them to restore funding omitted in this year's budget for the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program, which helps combat damage to important habitats.

I'm also working to ensure that the Great Lakes remain a foundation of the regional economy by pushing for enhanced funding of harbor maintenance. There is a backlog of maintenance needs for harbors on the Great Lakes and around the nation, yet we are failing to use money from a trust fund intended for harbor maintenance. I'm hopeful Congress will act soon to free up this money to protect this vital economic resource.

Whether you depend on the Great Lakes for employment, drinking water, recreation or all of the above and more, the preservation of these natural jewels is among our highest responsibilities. We must all continually fight for the funding and focus we need to protect our Great Lakes.

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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 
 

 

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