With the 2018 midterm election is right around the corner, the Alliance for the Great Lakes has developed a new resource for voters, Protect the Great Lakes This Election Season: A Toolkit for Getting Involved.

Across the region, 7 of 8 governorships, 8 U.S. Senate seats, and all House of Representatives seats are on the ballot in the 2018 midterm election.

The Great Lakes face many threatsfrom invasive species to failing water infrastructure to harmful algal blooms. That’s why it’s important that Great Lakes voters get active and raise their voices for clean water this election season.

Protecting the Great Lakes means defending existing clean water laws while pushing for stronger, better protections for the world’s largest source of surface freshwater. To protect the lakes, we need elected officials at all levels of government who are willing to stand up for the Great Lakes.

Earlier today, Alliance President & CEO Joel Brammeier, Vice President for Policy Molly Flanagan, and Policy Director Crystal M.C. Davis hosted a webinar to discuss how Great Lakes voters can can protect the lakes this election season. In case you missed the webinar, a recording can be found here.

What do the 2018 midterms mean for the Great Lakes?

This afternoon, the Alliance policy team broke down the what’s at stake.

Federal and state governments have power over these and other critical Great Lakes issues. They set program and funding priorities that can lead to better protections for the lakes or leave them more vulnerable to pollution and other threats. And, they oversee agencies that implement clean water laws and regulations.

“The good news is that there has often been sustained, bipartisan support for the Great Lakes from people like you and elected officials,” Brammeier explained. “Historically, protection of the Great Lakes and clean water has not been a partisan issue and our conversations around the region tell us that this remains true.”

The Great Lakes have long enjoyed strong bipartisan support because people of all backgrounds can see the value of clean water.

“Right now,” Flanagan said, “We have an opportunity to encourage candidates to stand up for the Great Lakes and hold them accountable once elected.”

The Most Critical Great Lakes Issues Are at Stake

On the webinar, Flanagan highlighted some of the most pressing Great Lakes issues, which are included in the toolkit. She also shared sample candidate questions on each topic, which you can find in the toolkit.

Aquatic Invasive Species
Aquatic invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, have irreparably harmed the Great Lakes and cause more than $200 million in damage annually to the region. Asian carp are a voracious invasive species making its way toward Lake Michigan, posing a serious threat to all the Great Lakes. The US Army Corps of Engineers is due to release its plan for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes next year. Congress and the Great Lakes states will need to provide money to build and maintain these protections. And, Congress will need to maintain ballast water protections to prevent additional aquatic invasive species from entering the lakes.

Water Infrastructure & Funding
Right now, there isn’t enough federal funding available for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which helps communities pay for wastewater infrastructure improvements, or the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which helps pay for drinking water infrastructure updates. Congress gets to decide how much money the fund receives. States get to decide how this money is distributed to communities.

Water Affordability & Safety
Water traveling to consumers through lead service lines pose a serious threat to the health and safety of residents around the region. Lead service lines need to be replaced in full, including both publicly and privately owned portions of the line. The huge cost of needed repairs shouldn’t disproportionately burden low-income households. Currently, the federal Low-Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides aid to families in need to cover heat and energy costs. Water and sewer bills, on average, are even higher than heat and energy bills, yet they have received little attention in federal programs. Congress could adopt a program like LIHEAP for water to ensure that low-income households don’t lose access to water. Congress and States can provide funds for lead service line replacement.

Agricultural Pollution
Runoff pollution from agricultural lands carries excessive nutrients into our waterways, which fuels harmful and at times toxic algal blooms across the Great Lakes region. This is a big problem in western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, Green Bay and countless rivers and lakes across the Great Lakes region. These harmful algal blooms can threaten drinking water. Congress can put Farm Bill dollars to work to reduce polluted agricultural runoff.

Environmental Protections & Restoration
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) supports projects to clean up toxic pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, combat invasive species like Asian carp, and prevent polluted runoff from farms and cities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays a critical role in safeguarding our Great Lakes from pollution and protecting human health. Congress gets to decide how much funding the GLRI and EPA receive each year.

Get Involved This Election Season

Following the issue overview, Davis emphasized the importance of using this information to raise your voice for the lakes and ask candidates key Great Lakes questions.

“First, please make sure that you are registered to vote,” Davis said. “You can verify your registration and check the registration deadline at your local board of elections website. You should also be able to verify your polling place and get info on the offices and candidates.”

“Our toolkit outlines several ways to get involved this election season and helpful tips on ways to amplify your voice,” Davis said. “Personally, I’m most excited about the sample questions which are particularly helpful when talking one on one with candidates or speaking up at candidate forums.”

Davis then highlighted key platforms for speaking out on Great Lakes issues this election season:

  • Attend a candidate forum and ask Great Lakes questions: Asking candidates where they stand on Great Lakes issues raises awareness and allows constituents to hold them accountable once elected. Our toolkit includes background information and sample candidate questions on the most pressing Great Lakes issues.
  • Write a letter to the editor: Letters to the editor are published on the editorial page in newspapers, one of the most read sections. Many candidates and their staff also keep tabs on opinion pages. This can be a powerful platform for getting your message out.
  • Speak up on social media: Using social media leading up to the election can be a great way to engage with candidates, learn more about their platform and keep up-to-date on candidate events and news. 
  • Get out the vote for the Great Lakes: Once you’ve made sure you’re registered and ready to vote, it’s equally important to make sure friends, family and community members are registered, too. Local civic organizations will often hold voter drivesconsider volunteering to get out the vote!

Report Back

If you use the toolkit, we’d love to hear how it goes!

If you attend a candidate forum and ask a Great Lakes question, tell us what questions and how candidates respond. If you write a letter to the editor, get active on social, or help out on a voter registration effort this election season, tell us about your experience.

We want to hear how you got involved to protect the lakes this election season. Write to us here: www.GreatLakes.org/2018Midterms