Frontline: Poisoned Waters

9pm EST Frontline: years after the Clean Water Act (CWA) our fresh waters remain woefully polluted.

9:10 pm: Not just the Chesapeake Bays ecosystem has been altered by human activity but also the Great Lakes and the surrounding wetlands and tributaries. Development, rural run off and industrial waste have damaged the Great Lakes to the point that we were talking about Lake Erie’s dead zones years ago.

9:15 pm: Every summer, Great Lakes beaches are closed because of pollution. Surfers on the Great Lakes have been infected with staff surfing in the same water that more than 35 million people get their drinking water from – that is so gross. The toxic pollution that sits at the bottom of lakes has caused tumors in the fish as well making a big dent in Friday night fish frys. It is so bad that we have more than 30 areas of concern (that means you have a lot of toxic waste and pollution congregating in a spot making the water unusable) on the United States side of the Lakes.

9:20 the Clean Water Act no longer protects enough of our water. This is why it is essential that we support Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) in his efforts to get the Clean Water Restoration Act enacted. He has introduced it in the US Senate (S.787) – this must be enacted if we want to restore all our waters – including the Great Lakes. Shockingly, a number of Great Lakes Senators have yet to cosponsor this significant legislation. Here is a rundown of the slackers: Voinovich,Klobuchar,Burris, Bayh, Casey, Lugar, and Specter.

9:26 Amy Klobuchar is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – we know that she has been a bit busy since she is the only serving Minnesota Senator right now, but cleaning our water needs to take priority. Email her and tell her that you support the CWRA and why and that you expect her, as a Great Lakes Senator to cosponsor and push through the legislation.

9:32 The Great Lakes suffer from rural run off too and a report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found the problem is much worse than we previously thought. The buildup is blamed on industrial agriculture and its use of fertilizer and manure. A news story by MSNBC outlines why this is a big problem for the Great Lakes but it also offers some solutions such as machines called manure digesters that can convert phosphorus into a sludge that can be put in landfills or transferred to phosphorus-deficient areas. Buffer strips are another option – they can be developed to protect waterways from runoff and there are new technologies able to remove phosphorus from soil. “If we don’t do something,” Carpenter – a researcher – told MSNBC, “the water quality will get considerably worse, the lake will smell bad, there will be algae blooms all summer long, and more and more of those blooms will be the toxic kind.”

9:47 The modern canary in the mine that we haven’t been paying attention to – the chemicals that are in our environment but worse yet, in our drinking water. Lake Effect, by Nancy Nichols hauntingly outlines her belief that her sister’s fatal cancer and her bout with cancer and infertility are directly linked to living on the Great Lakes and eating the fish from the Lakes during the 1970s.

9:55 The Great Lakes were the heart of the industrial and chemical revolutions in this country and that means that our waters are infected by many toxins. The Great Lakes Legacy Act has been helping the Great Lakes states clean up areas where the toxins are most concentrated. The US House has approved a sweeping water bill – the Water Quality Investment Act – that has included the GLLA in it and has increased funding, decreased the local match and will allow some money to go toward habitat restoration. It is the first time in nearly 20 years that Congress has considered a Water Quality Bill. The Great Lakes needs the US Senate to approve the Water Quality Investment Act as soon as possible.

10:00 Numerous Great Lakes AOC’s are laced with PCBs. We have been trying to get these toxic sediments removed from the lakes for many years but still, only one site has been remediated and delisted – Oswego, New York. To learn more about all the sites check out’s Unearthing the Great Lakes Areas of Concern section where we outline the problems in each AOC.

10:15 Wrangling between government agencies is a big problem when it comes to cleaning up the Great Lakes too. That is why it is so important that Nancy Sutley of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality and Lisa Jackson of the EPA choose a person who will be responsible for coordinating the restoration efforts in the Great Lakes. The President promised us a Great Lakes Czar but the CEQ and EPA have yet to name someone to fill the much needed post.

10:20 President Obama, when candidate Obama, promised us that he would bring with him to Washington the political will and financial backing to bring about Great Lakes restoration. In his first budget, the President came through on that promise with a budget line detailing $475 million for a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Both houses of Congress approved budgets including this budget item. Now, we are waiting on the conference committees and we are continuing to ask them to support this effort. If you have time to contact these key lawmakers on the appropriations committee -asking them to politically and fiscally support this initiative, please do so. The following Great Lakes lawmakers are on these powerful committees:
MN – Rep. McCollum
WI – Senator Kohl; Rep. Obey
IL – Senator Durbin; Rep. Jackson, Jr.; Rep. Kirk
IN – Rep. Visclosky
MI – Rep. Kilpatrick
OH – Senator Voinovich; Rep. Kaptur; Rep. Ryan; Rep. LaTourette
PA – Senator Specter; Rep. Murtha; Rep. Fattah
NY – Rep. Lowey; Rep. Serrano; Rep. Hinchey; Rep. Israel

10:32 Did you see that gunk coming out of the pipe in Puget Sound? Ugh, gross, disgusting. The Gov is right too, it is like a bathtub and it isn’t going away. The Great Lakes have experienced similar problems with sewage with 24 billion gallons of raw sewage flowing into the lakes every year. The problem is an aging waste water infrastructure and the combined storm and waste water sewer systems that our region invested in many years ago. The State Revolving Fund provides money to states and localities to update, improve and fix these water ways and the recent American Economic Recovery Package provides extra dollars for these projects but we need millions more to really get the job done. The House Water Quality Investment Act would go a long way toward fixing these water infrastructure problems.

10:37 While Tyson’s Corner in Virginia has made a lot of people money at the expense of the environment, Chambers of Commerce across the Great Lakes Region have joined to promote the restoration of the Great Lakes as key to reviving the economy of the region that once drove this nation and much of the world’s economy.“It is not only important for ecological reasons, but the economic impact from the clean up has an enormous impact on the places that are most polluted,” Andrew Rudnick of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership told HOW. “Clearly, whether it’s the Administration or Members of the Great Lakes Congressional Delegation in many states, including New York State, there is much interest in this environmental – ecological piece. It is the next wave,” he added.

10:50 The bottom line is that by investing in Great Lakes restoration you will be investing in the growth of the eight state region’s economy. Fixing the sewers, cleaning up toxic hot spots, dealing responsibly with ballast water, restoring habitat will all increase the economic power of the region. But even more important, our waters are at a crisis point from which there very soon will be no return. Congress and the President can do a lot this year to bring this about by enacting the Clean Water Restoration Act, the Water Quality Investment Act, the President’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, choosing a Great Lakes Czar, and coming up with a workable, national standard for ballast water. Each of these initiatives fulfills a piece of the Great Lakes Collaboration Strategy.

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