Great Lakes advocates in D.C. to Urge Support for Programs to Restore Lakes, Stop Asian Carp

‘We’re making progress, but much work remains’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 130 Great Lakes advocates are descending on Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday to urge the nation’s public officials to maintain funding for Great Lakes restoration programs and support legislation that would quicken efforts to keep Asian carp from invading the lakes.

Great Lakes Days 2012 will bring conservationists from the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to Washington, D.C., for meetings with Congressional offices and Obama Administration officials.

Citizens will be asking federal public officials to:
–Continue funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million;
–Support the Stop Asian Carp Act, a bill that would required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up efforts to keep Asian carp out of the lakes; and,
–Maintain funding for conservation programs in the Farm Bill that benefit the Great Lakes.

Read a fact sheet on the issues being championed by the coalition.

Citizens and communities that long demanded healthier Great Lakes are now seeing the fruits of their labor,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “We are making progress in restoring the lakes, but much work remains. We cannot afford delays, because restoring the lakes becomes more expensive and difficult the longer we wait.”

The D.C. gathering comes as an unprecedented effort to restore the Lakes is starting to produce results in communities around the region. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is documenting Great Lakes restoration success stories around the region—its new collection of stories can be found here.

Read how Great Lakes activities produce results here.

Congress and President Obama have approved $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration projects the past three years as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The unprecedented effort to clean up toxic hot spots, restore wetlands, reduce polluted runoff and stop invasive species is already yielding positive results for the Great Lakes and communities that rely on the lakes for water, commerce and recreation.

The nearly 700 projects funded by the initiative are helping to clean up polluted harbors, reduce polluted runoff, restore fish and wildlife habitat and fight Asian carp and other invasive species. Those projects have created hundreds of jobs and will continue to bolster the region’s economy — every $1 spent on Great Lakes restoration produces at least $2 in economic activity, according to the Brookings Institution.

“Great Lakes activities are producing results,” said Skelding, “but the job’s not done yet.”

Despite progress in restoring the lakes, serious problems remain: Invasive species cause more than $200 million in damage and control costs in the Great Lakes basin annually; outdated sewer systems pump billions of gallons of untreated sewage into the lakes each year; and filthy storm water runoff causes water pollution that forces beach closures. Runoff from farms has caused devastating toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie. On top of that, Asian carp are on the brink of invading the Great Lakes.

The coalition will be asking U.S. public officials to pass legislation to confront the Asian carp crisis. Currently the U.S. Army Corps is studying how best to prevent Asian carp in the Mississippi River system from storming the Great Lakes, but that study won’t be completed until at least 2015.

Scientists have concluded that separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin is the only permanent solution to keep Asian carp and other harmful invasive species from moving between the two massive ecosystems.

A recent study sponsored by the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes and St.Lawrence Cities Initiative found that restoring the natural divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River is both feasible and affordable. The study was completed in 18 months and demonstrates that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to be moving with greater urgency to complete its own study.

Legislation pending in the U.S. House and Senate — the Stop Asian Carp Act of 2011 (H.R. 892/S. 471) — would force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete its study in 18 months. That legislation will be one of the topics that Great Lakes advocates will discuss with Congressional staffers during Great Lakes Days.

“Congress needs to light a fire under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so that we can address the invasive species crisis once and for all,” said Skelding. “Passing the Stop Asian Carp Act is a top priority so that we can protect the Great Lakes, our jobs and way of life.”

Citizens will meet with offices of all 16 U.S. Senate members from the Great Lakes states: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; and Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.

Great Lakes Day participants will also visit offices of many U.S. House members from Great Lakes states including: Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind.; Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio; Rep.  James Renacci, R-Ohio; Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y.; Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.; Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.; Rep.  Randy Hultgren, R-Ill.; Rep.  Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; Rep.  Michele Bachman, R-Minn.; Rep.  Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.; Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.; Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y.; Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.; Rep.  Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio; Rep.  John Kline, R-Minn.; Rep.  Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y.; Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.; Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

The largest source of surface freshwater on the planet, the Great Lakes provide drinking water for 30 million people and are the foundation of one of the world’s largest regional economies.

The coalition is hosting the meetings with U.S. lawmakers as House and Senate leaders embark on crafting a 2013 budget with an eye toward deficit reduction and job creation.

“If there is one message that we want to convey, it’s that the nation cannot afford not to protect the Great Lakes—more than 30 million people depend on them for their drinking water,” said Skelding. “Great Lakes programs are good for the environment and the economy. Great Lakes restoration programs are one of the best investments in the federal budget. Cutting these successful programs will not save the nation one penny. Cutting restoration funds will cost American taxpayers more money, because these projects will only become harder and more expensive the longer we wait to address them.”

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 120 environmental, conservation and outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at http://healthylakes.org

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