Surprise, Surprise, Cities Outspend Feds On Great Lakes Issues

Great Lakes mayors and state officials joined forces in Washington today touting a report that estimates cities, towns and villages are ponying up $15 billion to protect the lakes and keep them clean. Great Lakes residents were disillusioned to say the least when Bush revealed his Budget plan. The President sliced funding for the Great Lakes and scalped local governments efforts to update waste water treatment compounding the shortages for which they will have to make up. But there is still time for Congress to recognize the neglect and authorize spending increases to support ailing sewage systems and conservations plans.

The Great Lakes Commission along with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released the report today in Washington, DC. Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, founding U.S. chair of the Cities Initiative, said “This local government investment report tells a story that Great Lakes and St. Lawrence cities have known for quite some time, but could not get anyone to listen to or believe. Cities invest enormously in the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, and it is time for other orders of government to step up and help protect this significant resource at a level that matches the need.”

“Cities and towns are paying ten times more on waste water infrastructure than the Federal government,” Michigan Lt. Governor John D. Cherry, said at a press conference discussing the report.

Wastewater treatment facilities in the Great Lakes region were built so long ago that they are corroding and buckling under the pressure to sustain a growing demand. Cities, towns and villages have long had to deal with the aging systems overflows infecting the lakes and drinking water and inhibiting swimming. What is really needed is a complete overhaul and modernization of the wastewater treatment system, but cities are overwhelmed just trying to stick their thumbs in the dike – one that the report estimates is costing them about $12 billion annually.

“We all share the responsibility for this resource,” said Mayor Gary Becker of Racine, current Cities Initiative chair. “How can it be that U.S. and Canadian local governments spend an estimated $12 billion a year on crucial water and wastewater systems and operations that help keep the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence waters protected and our Federal Governments cannot even fund $1 billion for these critical systems in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin? Any future federal cuts for wastewater infrastructure are totally unacceptable.”

The researchers surveyed 143 US and Canadian localities and found they were spending $2.5 billion on water quality – that includes the maintenance of wastewater treatment facilities infrastructure and maintenance – a major problem in polluting the lakes and drinking water. Another $784 million is being expended on ecosystem protections – they project that to approximately $3 billion when including all localities in the region. Researchers then extrapolated the figures to include the 688 localities to reach the final figure of $15 billion.

Read the full report here.

 Read the statement from Healing Our Waters Coalition national campaign director Jeff Skelding.

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