Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has been credited with putting the green back into Wisconsin policies, and it appears he is trying to share the enthusiasm across the Great Lakes region. As Chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, Doyle, a Democrat, held a press conference recently and launched the first pitch for aggressive action to save the Great Lakes and asked presidential hopefuls to outline their vision for the Great Lakes. Now, he has taken time to share with HOW his thoughts on why the Great Lakes are so vital to the region and the nation, why national politicians need to start addressing issues affecting the Lakes and why water diversion would be bad policy.
Q1. Recently, you announced that the Great Lakes Governors had agreed that the 2008 presidential candidates need to outline their vision for the Great Lakes when they stump in the region. Why is it important that they do so and have any of the candidates risen to this challenge?
A. The Great Lakes constitute the largest surface freshwater system in the world. More than 35 million Americans receive the benefits of drinking water, food, a place to work and live, recreational opportunities and transportation from the Great Lakes.
Our national economy depends on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes generate $55 billion annually through tourism for the entire Great Lakes region. And they create nearly $377 million in personal income from wages and salaries. In Wisconsin alone, the Great Lakes support over 11,000 jobs in Wisconsin’s ports.
However, progress to protect and restore the Great Lakes continues too slowly because the States, without proper support from the federal government, can only achieve so much. That’s why I have called on the Presidential candidates to share their vision for the Great Lakes with us. We need a partner who will help us to build upon our work to protect, preserve, and improve the Great Lakes.
Actions in coming months and years will determine whether our shared efforts will accelerate or falter. The next President will have a key role in determining the fate of the Great Lakes. The Governors have been working hard to protect the Great Lakes through measures like the Great Lakes Water Compact but it is only through supportive federal policy that we will be able to realize our shared vision of a protected and restored Great Lakes.
We have contacted each candidate’s office to stress the importance of this issue and asked them to respond to my letter. To date, we have not received any formal responses from any of the Presidential candidates.
Q2. Please explain what the Great Lakes mean to Wisconsinites and why this issue is important in the 2008 Presidential election.
A. The economy of Wisconsin, as well as that of the other Great Lakes States, is heavily dependent on the continued health and sustainable use of Great Lakes water. Water quality is important. For example, each year, marine commerce on the Great Lakes/Seaway System generates more than $4.3 billion in personal income, $3.4 billion in transportation-related business revenue and $1.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
The Great Lakes provide about 20 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually and transport of almost 200 million tons of international and interlake cargo.
Of course they are also one of the reasons why people live and work in Wisconsin. They are a valuable recreation resource that many people enjoy for hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.
Q3. What are the greatest problems facing the lakes that need immediate addressing?
A. In 2003, the Great Lakes Governors came together to bring some coherence to our region’s restoration and protection efforts. Through the Council of Great Lakes Governors, we created the Great Lakes Governors’ Priorities Task Force to develop restoration and protection priorities for our region.
We developed nine priorities to protect and restore the Great Lakes and pushed for aggressive action to achieve our goals. The priorities include:
· Sustainable use of water resources;
· Protecting human health;
· Controlling pollution from diffuse sources;
· Reducing persistent bio-accumulative toxics;
· Stopping the introduction and spread of non-native aquatic invasive species;
· Protecting coastal wetland and wildlife habitats;
· Restoring the most contaminated toxic hot spots;
· Improving information collection and dissemination; and
· Adopting practices that protect the environment along with the recreational and commercial value of the Great Lakes.
We’ve pressed hard for the completion of the Asian Carp Barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and even come together as the eight Great Lakes States to make up a temporary financial shortfall that at the time prevented construction from being continued.
We continue to seek full funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds in order to update our region’s aging wastewater infrastructure and stop sewage dumping into the Great Lakes.
And we are seeking support for the Great Lakes Legacy Act to clean up our region’s most contaminated toxic hot spots.
We also must begin restoration work immediately of 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Great Lakes Basin. The States remain committed to working with other non-federal partners to provide an additional $28.5 million cost-share toward this end. These monies would help provide vital habitat to birds and wildlife, while also helping protect water quality.
Q4. The eight Great Lakes governors environmental platform includes policies to protect against water diversion while restoring the ecosystem. Why are both important? How do you feel about the idea of diverting Great Lakes water to help out states affected by drought conditions?
A. Every drop of water in the Great Lakes is used, whether for drinking, manufacturing, transporting ships, or to protect the ecological health of the system. For example, and as the Brown County Port Director recently pointed out, for every inch of water lost, that’s 100 tons of cargo that can’t be put on a ship. The hydro-power industries can similarly provide you with information as to how much more electricity will cost to generate for every ¼ inch of water lost to the system. And, of course, the continued health of the ecosystem itself is reliant upon water levels being maintained.
The Great Lakes Region, including both states and provinces agreed to the Compact in 2005. Now, each of the states and provinces is working on an individual plan that addresses their specific issues. This is due to each state or province having a unique situation, separate from the other Great Lakes Region members. We encourage other states to develop a sustainable water resource plan of their own, just as we are doing here in the Great Lakes Region. As other states move forward in this process we encourage them to consider how they will balance conservation efforts as well as economic development needs.
Q5. The Governors of the Great Lakes have really taken a leadership role in pressuring Congress to deal with invasive species and concerns around ballast water –what can Congress do to better serve the Great Lakes region?
A. The State of Wisconsin has not waited for federal leadership on this issue. Wisconsin is actually leading Great Lakes Basin States in ballast water research with regard to on-shore and in-port treatments.
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) continue to pose one of the most serious threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. An average of one new species is discovered in the Great Lakes ecosystem every eight months, and once present, eradication is often impossible. Prevention is vital to stemming ecosystem impacts from new invasive species. And, because invasive species easily transfer from watershed to watershed, it is absolutely critical that comprehensive national action be taken to combat their spread.
Aquatic invasive species cost the nation billions of dollars in damages each year, are a burden on the economy and strain Great Lakes states’ budgets. They pose a threat to human health and cause immeasurable ecological damage. Further, AIS are injurious to our region’s sport and commercial fisheries and associated tourism and recreation.
Great Lakes Governors continue to call for a comprehensive National Aquatic Invasive Species Act to be passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President.
The problem of AIS continues to grow. In fact, in the months that have passed since our September 2005 request for comprehensive Federal invasive species legislation, several new AIS have been discovered in the Great Lakes region alone. These include, for example, the bloody red shrimp, the New Zealand mudsnail and the fish disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS). Additionally, existing invasive species such as the quagga mussel have spread to Lake Superior and Lake Mead, illustrating how invasive species can move from one area of the country to another.
Congressional action is long overdue. While State and regional actions against AIS remain critical to establishing a complete and protective framework, a coordinated and comprehensive national approach is the only long-term means of stopping new invasive species from penetrating the Great Lakes.
Q6. What more can the Governors do to get comprehensive legislation moving in Congress?
A. Every year for the last several years, the Great Lakes Governors have shared with the U.S. Congress our legislative and appropriation priorities to advance Great Lakes restoration and protection. And every year, we have called on Congress to enact comprehensive invasive species legislation. We will continue to take every opportunity, including letters, testimony and one-on-one discussions, to impress upon the Members of Congress the importance of effectively combating the scourge of aquatic invasive species.
Q7. If Congress continues to delay action, what are states like Wisconsin prepared to do?
A. Such delays are unacceptable. However, States such as Wisconsin continue to address the threat posed by invasive species from each available angle. In Wisconsin, we have worked with the Port of Milwaukee to study the option of shore-based ballast water treatment and a report will be completed soon. Additionally, the Great Lakes States have partnered with others through the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration to create Clean Boat Day, focused on educating recreational users to help prevent the introduction and spread of AIS.
Q8. A recent Brookings Institution report concluded that restoring the Great Lakes would lead to at least $50 billion in long-term economic gain for the region. Talk about what the Great Lakes mean to Wisconsin’s economy.
A. The Great Lakes Basin, including groundwater resources, covers nearly a third of the State. Our manufacturing industries, our ports, our agricultural community, our recreational industries, our Tribal communities, and our residential communities all rely upon a clean and available water resource and will so for generations. Our economy cannot continue to grow unless we are assured that that most invaluable resource—Great Lakes Water—is restored, protected and sustainably used now and into the future.