The 2020 election has unfolded at a critical juncture for the Great Lakes and the communities who call this region home. We’ve seen progress over the last 15 years to restore and protect the Great Lakes.
But more work remains. Though a scheduled debate between major party Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden in Michigan had to be canceled recently due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the environmental issues that are pressing upon Great Lakes communities have not let up – indeed, the pandemic has exposed critical fault lines in the infrastructure needed to protect the Great Lakes.
That’s why the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition is urging White House aspirants Donald Trump and Joe Biden to support a robust clean water platform to tackle Great Lakes issues now and beyond. Environmental stewardship and healthy communities are not only about fixing problems as they arise – they’re also about putting solutions in place for the long term that leave no community behind. We are asking candidates to:
Invest in Water Infrastructure
The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened already existing inequities when it comes to water rates and affordability. The pandemic illustrated how water shutoffs impact low-income communities and communities of color. These impacts have been growing for decades because of disinvestment in community water infrastructure. The federal government’s contribution to local water infrastructure projects has declined from 63 percent of water infrastructure spending in 1977 to 9 percent today. This disinvestment has left communities struggling with high rates and unsafe water.
To stand up for Great Lakes communities, candidates must triple federal investments to fix our region’s water infrastructure. A staggering $179 billion is needed to address the infrastructure backlog in the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. And climate change will only exacerbate existing challenges due to more intense rain events that can overwhelm antiquated infrastructure. Our next president must make our water infrastructure backlog a priority.
Support Great Lakes Restoration
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing results to protect and restore the Great Lakes from a variety of threats in the 10 years it has been in place. But much more work needs to be done. The next president must ramp up Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding to $475 million to boost the work already done in cleaning up toxic contamination, reducing polluted runoff, stopping invasive species, restoring wetlands and other habitats, and responding to emerging threats.
The Great Lakes are the source of drinking water for 30 million Americans, and provide billions of dollars in fishing, recreation, tourism and other industries to local economies. Over the past decade, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has provided the communities that live around the Great Lakes untold economic and social benefits. Studies show that the GLRI returns to the community $3 in economic benefit for every $1 invested. You can find a list of some of the great projects we’ve written about here.
Support Clean Water Protections
Clean water is a basic human need, but too many towns and cities are still living with unsafe drinking water, due to well-known contaminants like lead and emerging contaminants such as toxic PFAS. Federal laws that help communities protect drinking water from threats like lead and PFAS must be rigorously enforced. Candidates who support the Great Lakes must commit to enforcing clean water and drinking water laws and developing tougher standards to help community’s clean-up and prevent public health problems from legacy pollutants, existing contamination, and emerging threats in the region’s waterways.
Control Invasive Species
The Great Lakes support a $7 billion fishing industry that is being threatened by invasive species – particularly Asian Carp. In places in the Illinois River, where the carp have taken over, these invasive fish make up 90 percent of the aquatic life present. It is vital that Asian Carp not be allowed to take root in the Great Lakes. The next President must commit to building new prevention measures at Brandon Road Lock and Dam to prevent the transfer of Asian Carp from the Mississippi River Basin to the Great Lakes Basin.
End Toxic Algal Blooms
Toxic blooms of algae are a significant threat to the ecology of the Great Lakes and the safety of the drinking water for those who live in Great Lakes communities. In 2014, a toxic algal outbreak blanketed western Lake Erie, prompting Toledo city officials to issue a “do not drink” advisory impacting more than 400,000 people. Slow progress has been made towards the 40 percent Lake Erie phosphorus reduction target for 2025, and both observed and projected climate change impacts, such as increases in heavy rainfall and rising temperatures, are increasing the prevalence and threats posed by HABs across the region. Candidates must explain how they will reduce harmful algal blooms across the region by linking the region’s Farm Bill conservation funding and Clean Water Act programs to numeric, water-quality based outcomes.