Great Lakes Are Great Waters

Water advocates from the Florida Everglades, Puget Sound, Coastal Louisiana and the Gulf of Maine flew in to speak to the Healing Our Waters Coalition at their sixth annual national conference to implore them to continue supporting the Great Waters Coalition.

Congress is readying to change with the next election and the Great Lakes are losing some incredible champions such as Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) chief of the Appropriations Committee who pushed through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $475 million last session. Other members of our delegation are also leaving, including Rep. Ehlers (R-Mich), Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), Arlene Specter (D-PA), Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind).

“We’ve heard great things about the GLRI, but here is the thing – it isn’t authorized and it could be referred to as a great big ear mark. This is not a position the Great Lakes wants to be in – we need GLRI codified and authorized at $475 million a year,” said Malia Hale, Director of the National Restoration and Water Resources for the National Wildlife Federation.

There are another eight water bills that cover other restoration projects, such as Puget Sound, the coast of Louisiana and Chesapeake Bay and they are wrapped up into a bill that includes the GLRI – one great big omnibus water bill. The majority of the restoration projects in the bill are also Great Waters Coalition members. Recently, there have been whispers about adding wild life bills to this act, and funding to address the Asian carp – yikes!

Another complication raised by Peter Alexander of the Gulf of Maine is that it is likely the Great Lakes need much more than $25 billion to be fully restored. “I suspect you have a bigger number lurking in the closet and your advocacy work is just getting started,” he said.

Encouraging HOW members to think nationally, Alexander explained that he sends letters on behalf of the Great Lakes to his US Senators in Maine. “We need a national approach to great water. If we all work together instead of having 15 or 16 Senators supporting GLRI we can have 60 or 70.”

New York state alone has five great waters from Lakes Erie and Ontario to the Hudson River to the New York and New Jersey Estuary to the top of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and that alone should interest New York HOW members in the Great Waters Coalition. But it isn’t only New York that would benefit, as Alexander explained when he listed out the benefits of the Great Waters Coalition to the Great Lakes – more power, more reach, more funds, more shared knowledge and finally “healthy lakes and healthy lives.”

“If you care about the Great Lakes then help us pass this larger bill that will help us support everybody’s work,” Hale said.

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