The Day after Tomorrow: The Great Lakes in Crisis

Close your eyes and think of the worst disaster movie you’ve ever seen, OK, do you have it set in your mind’s eye? The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is releasing a report that shows the expected impacts of global warming on the Great Lakes – nearly 95 percent of this nation’s fresh surface water – are much more devastating than anything you could have imagined.

Great Lakes Restoration and the Threat of Global Warming makes it clear that the Great Lakes are poised to reach an irrevocable crisis if immediate action isn’t taken by our nation. I know, I know, we’ve been saying for years that we are approaching the point of no return, but we are really teetering on the verge of our last chance.

At the same time that freshwater resources become more scarce around the world, climate change will lower water levels of these majestic fresh water seas–increasing the pressure from states outside the region to divert Great Lakes water to them. Climate change also promises to boost non-native invasive species populations that are notorious for crowding out local fish and plant life. The wetlands will shrink and dry and cease to filter pollution as well as steal away the homes of fish and wildlife that once lived there. The low water levels will expose residents to toxic sediments that have been known to cause cancer and otherwise impair human health. The odor and taste of drinking water promises to get worse. More storms will mean more sewage overflow from our notoriously antiquated sewer systems and that will mean more beach closings. If this scenario isn’t starting to scare you, how about the effect it will have on our region’s economy? The shipping industry will suffer, our food, our water quality and our way of life will all be affected. (Don’t forget that if the nation were to invest in the Great Lakes restoration plan the region and the nation would gain a 2-to-1 return on the investment – but it has to happen now, before climate change intensifies the problems plaguing the Lakes.)

We have made small advances toward fulfilling the restoration plan, the US House passed a ballast bill that will help fight invasive species, the US Senate introduced a bill that would triple the funding for cleaning up toxic pollution and five of our region’s eight states have approved the Great Lakes Compact that can ultimately prevent our waters from diversion.

It isn’t too late to fix this problem and curb the affects of global warming on the lakes, but Congress and the next President have to act quickly. Just last summer, former Vice President Al Gore said, “The next President is critical to solving Global Warming,” on the Today Show and since then all three presidential candidates have promised to restore the Great Lakes and confront global warming.

Now is the time for action – the US Congress must fully fund and implement the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy. There is no time to wait and each day raises the price tag that much more. Oh, and while you are at it – make sure to approve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to further protect your investment in our nation’s fresh water. Think of it as fresh water owner’s disaster insurance.

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