The health of the Great Lakes depends on all of us, and all levels of government, taking action to protect clean water. Federal policy provides a foundation for those protections, providing a standard set of policies that ensure the health of our water.
That’s why the Alliance for the Great Lakes releases its Federal Policy Agenda every year, which outlines priority action items for Congress to protect the lakes and the communities that depend on them. The Alliance is committed to making sure Great Lakes protection stays top of mind with our elected officials in Washington, DC.
Today, we took some time to make our priorities crystal clear in a lunch hour webinar with Joel Brammeier, Alliance President and CEO, and Molly Flanagan, Vice President for Policy. They answered your questions, shared a brief analysis of 2017, and provided an overview of the top Great Lakes issues in 2018 which are:
- Ensuring access to safe, affordable drinking water
- Investing to improve outdated and failing drinking and wastewater infrastructure
- Funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
- Preserving the Clean Water Act and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Supporting existing invasive species regulations
- Preventing Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes
- Reducing Runoff Pollution
- Reducing Plastic Pollution in Our Waters
Most importantly, they offered a few ideas for how to take action today. Your voice, along with thousands of others in the region and beyond, is the power behind all of our Great Lakes protection efforts. Now is the time to speak up. Start by telling Congress to make protecting the Great Lakes a priority.
A Closer Look at This Year’s Great Lakes Federal Priorities
We know that the Great Lakes are worth protecting. The lakes are an invaluable resource, and an important part of our region. That’s why we’re working across the region and at all levels to protect the lakes and the communities that depend on them.
Without strong federal policies to restore the lakes and defend them against threats now and into the future, the Great Lakes would suffer at the regional, state and local levels. That’s why the Alliance has developed the following set of Great Lakes priorities for Congress.
Keeping Invasive Species Out of the Great Lakes
Aquatic invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, round goby, and spiny water flea, have caused irreparable harm to the Great Lakes. These species cause more than $200 million in economic damage annually to the region. In 2018, we are asking Congress to:
Prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes
Invasive Asian carp were first detected in the Illinois River in the 1990s and have moved steadily closer to Lake Michigan. If Asian carp reach the Great Lakes, these voracious eaters could have a catastrophic impact on the lakes’ ecosystems and economies. And there’s not time to waste–in June 2017, a Silver Carp was found just nine miles from Lake Michigan. The Alliance is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with plans to install control measures at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, and we’re asking Congress to authorize funding to get it done.
Keep ballast water rules strong
The single largest source of invasions over the last 30 years is ballast water discharged by oceangoing ships entering the Great Lakes. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to implement ballast water treatment standards designed to reduce the risk of new invasions. The Alliance is opposed to any efforts to weaken ballast water standards, such as the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA).
Fix Our Nation’s Failing Water Infrastructure
America’s pipes are in serious trouble. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation’s drinking water system a “D,” saying that much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. They graded our wastewater system at a “D+” with more than 70% of the country’s combined sewers, which collect both sewage and stormwater runoff, located in the Great Lakes region.
These serious and costly infrastructure problems are only getting worse, and there are no quick fixes. We need Congress to act now to improve our nation’s water infrastructure. In 2018, we are asking Congress to:
Invest in needed updates to our drinking water system
According to the American Water Works Association, an estimated $1 trillion is necessary to repair, replace, and expand drinking water distribution systems over the next 25 years. This figure does not include the estimated $30 billion that would be required to replace every lead service line in the country. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund allows communities to improve outdated and failing drinking water infrastructure. The Alliance is calling on Congress to triple funding to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to $2.6 billion. We also support progressive payment systems that allow communities to make long-term infrastructure investment without crippling low-income households.
Fix our broken wastewater infrastructure
It is estimated to cost about $271 billion to fix our nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems over the next twenty-five years. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund provides communities with funding for wastewater infrastructure and should be increased. We’re calling for $4.2 billion for The Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help fix our country’s broken wastewater systems.
Funding Programs and Agencies That Protect Our Water
Even the strongest laws to protect the Great Lakes would be moot if we undercut the the programs and agencies charged with carrying them out. In 2018 we are asking Congress to:
Maintain Full Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
The federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) supports efforts to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, combat invasive species like Asian carp, and prevent polluted runoff from farms and cities. A Brookings Institution report shows that every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration brings a $2 return in the form of increased fishing, tourism, and home values. We support the Healing Our Waters—Great Lakes Coalition’s legislative agenda, including fully funding the GLRI at $300 million annually.
Uphold the Clean Water Act and EPA Budget
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plays the critical federal role in safeguarding our Great Lakes and coordinating efforts with other federal agencies to address threats to our water. The Alliance is calling on Congress to uphold the Clean Water Act and maintain EPA’s FY2017 Great Lakes program and staff capacity and water program enforcement capacity into the 2019 fiscal year.
Improving Water Quality and Mitigating Pollution
To restore and protect the Great Lakes, we need to address the root causes of the threats they face. When it comes to quality of our water and the health of our lakes, that means putting policies in place to reduce pollution at its source. In 2018 we are asking Congress to:
Help Farmers Reduce Runoff Pollution
Runoff pollution from agricultural land, which fuels massive harmful and at times toxic algal blooms, is a significant threat to the region’s drinking water, quality of life and economic well-being. In August 2014, nearly a half-million people in communities around western Lake Erie experienced drinking water bans ranging from two days to more than a week as a result of toxic algae. The Alliance supports increased funding for the Conservation Title in the next Farm Bill and giving higher priority to funding projects and practices to reduce water pollution from agriculture.
Reduce Plastic Pollution
Plastic pollution is a problem in the open water, tributaries, and shorelines of the Great Lakes–and it never goes away, only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic debris makes up 77% to 90% of the total shoreline debris collected during the Alliance’s Adopt-a-Beach and has been found in drinking water and even beer. We’ve made progress, including passing the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015, but much more is needed to address plastic pollution in our water. The Alliance supports the Save Our Seas Act of 2017, which passed the Senate and has been introduced in the House. And, we’re working with researchers and local communities to further address plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.