A version of this story previously appeared in Watermarks, the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ quarterly newsletter. You can find the full issue online here.
Our 2019 Federal Policy Agenda lays out key action items for Congress to protect the Great Lakes. Here are our top five:
1. Prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes
Invasive Asian carp are creeping closer to Chicago and Lake Michigan. If these fish reach the lake, they would do irreparable harm to the Great Lakes ecosystem, and the multi-billion dollar fishing and recreation industries. The Army Corps of Engineers is finalizing a plan to stop them. Congress must fund this project.
2. Invest to improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure
The Great Lakes are home to more than 70% of America’s combined sewers, which collect both sewage and stormwater runoff. During heavy rains combined sewers overflow, dumping raw or poorly-treated sewage into the lakes. Infrastructure updates are estimated at $271 billion over the next 25 years. Congress should invest in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help communities keep waterways safe and clean.
3. Ensure access to safe, clean, and affordable water
Crumbling pipes and failing drinking water infrastructure often causes unsafe drinking water and soaring bills. Our region’s low-income communities and communities of color are bearing the brunt of the problem. Congress needs to increase funding to State Revolving Funds and prioritize water affordability in policy reforms so Great Lakes communities can access the water in their own backyards.
4. Reduce agricultural runoff and the harmful algal blooms it causes in the lakes
Algal blooms can turn toxic, harbor bacteria, and deplete oxygen in waterways causing “dead zones.” Agricultural runoff is causing serious problems in western Lake Erie and around the lakes. Congress should support and fund the Clean Water Act and Farm Bill Conservation Programs to address this serious problem, and push back on White House efforts to roll back clean water rules.
5. Invest in restoration and strong agencies to protect the Great Lakes
Important restoration programs have been hugely successful for the lakes and local economies. In fact, a recent study found that every Great Lakes Restoration Initiative dollar spent from 2010 to 2016 will produce $3.35 of additional economic activity through 2036. But these programs are under threat in the White House’s new budget. Congress should fully fund and staff U.S. EPA and other agencies to carry out the important work of protecting clean water.