New Report: Congress Must Deal with Global Warming—Great Lakes Impact

ANN ARBOR, MI (May 28, 2008)—The Great Lakes can lessen the impact of global warming or become global warming’s victim—it all depends on Congress, according to a new report from the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition. The authors urged Congress to enact a comprehensive plan to restore the health of the Great Lakes.

“Climate change is already affecting the Great Lakes, and no matter what we do now, the those impacts will increase in the future,” said Donald Scavia, Ph.D., report co-author and professor of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. “But we can counter those impacts by restoring the Great Lakes to make them more resilient. At the same time, we need strong national efforts to cut greenhouse gas pollution so that the impacts don’t become so severe that they overwhelm the Great Lakes.”

“Great Lakes Restoration & the Threat of Global Warming” synthesizes current climate change science and presents the likely impacts warming temperatures will have on the lakes, including lower lake levels, more sewage overflows, and increased pressure to divert Great Lakes water. The report describes the following likely impacts:

  • Daily high temperatures in the region will increase 5.4 to 10.8 degrees relative to what was typical from 1961-1990, with wintertime temperatures increasing even more than summer temperatures.

  • Increased evaporation from warming lakes—particularly in winter—is expected to result in less ice cover, contributing to lower water levels and increases in lake-effect snow.
  • Lake levels could drop during the next century by approximately 1 foot on Lake Superior, 3 feet on Lakes Michigan and Huron, 2.7 feet on Lake Erie, and 1.7 feet on Lake Ontario.
  • Water quality will likely worsen as more intense storm events will send polluted urban and agricultural runoff to our waterways, leading to drinking water impacts, beach closings, and higher costs to water suppliers.
  • Biological dead zones will increase, jeopardizing fish and other aquatic life.
  • Great Lakes forests and grasslands will change as plants adapted to the area confront increasingly unsuitable habitat. The ranges of some plants and animals will shift northward, while other creatures will vanish.

“It is important to protect the Great Lakes, and the national parks around the lakes, from the effects of global warming,” said Tom Kiernan, president of National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Restoration strategies that increase the Great Lakes’ ability to withstand the stress of global warming should complement aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction and preserve this natural resource for our children and grandchildren.”

The report comes as the U.S. Senate prepares to discuss global warming legislation next week. The report recommends several federal policy solutions, including:

  • Restoring the Great Lakes through full funding and implementation of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, a comprehensive plan put forward by more than 1,500 citizens and backed by the region’s mayors, governors and Congressional delegation;

  • Protecting the Great Lakes from water diversions by passing the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, a regional agreement to ban diversions outside the region and promoting conservation within the region;
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the magnitude of change to our climate and ecosystems; and,
  • Generating ecosystem restoration funding through federal global warming legislation.

The report highlights successful federal programs at the heart of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy and explains how the programs can bolster the ability of the lakes to limit the damage from a warming climate.

“We have solutions to confront global warming and protect the Great Lakes,” said Jeff Skelding, national campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “It is paramount that Congress act now, because the longer we wait, the problems will get worse and the solutions more costly.”

The report comes during a presidential election year in which all three White House aspirants – Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama – have acknowledged the urgent need to confront global warming, restore the Great Lakes and ban water diversions outside the region.

Said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition: “To those seeking the White House, we ask: ‘Will you use your leadership as president to confront global warming, outlaw diversion of Great Lakes water and fund the restoration of the largest freshwater resource in North America?'”

Economists have pegged the comprehensive restoration of the Great Lakes as an economic driver that will add more than $50 billion to the regional economy at a 2-to-1 return on investment.

Recognizing the lakes as drivers of economic prosperity and future growth, the region’s state legislatures are acting to protect the lakes by passing a compact to ban diversion of Great Lakes water out of the region and to promote water conservation measures within the region. The compact must eventually be ratified by the U.S. Congress.

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 100 zoos, aquariums, museums, and hunting, fishing, and environmental organizations representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes.

Jeff Skelding, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, (202) 797-6893,
Don Scavia, University of Michigan, (734) 615-4860,
Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation, (734) 887-7100,
Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation, (734) 887-7109;
Nora Ferrell, Valerie Denney Communications, (312) 408-2580,

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