By Joel Brammeier, Alliance for the Great Lakes President & CEO

The Covid-19 crisis has turned our world upside down, causing devastating loss of life and economic hardship for many around the Great Lakes and around the world. And the pandemic is tragically highlighting the inequalities in our communities. It’s leading me to reflect on what’s most important to me, my family, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes. 

All of this collides with two big anniversaries. This year, the Alliance celebrates 50 years of protecting the lakes. And this Wednesday, April 22, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Anniversaries and crises both lead to reflection, so there has been a lot of introspection around our virtual office lately. What’s most important to our communities and the Great Lakes? How can the Great Lakes support safe, healthy communities for everyone? Where do we go from here?

We know one thing for sure. Clean water is more important than ever. Our guiding vision of ensuring clean, safe water for all stands strong. Covid-19 has reinforced the deep connection between water and public health. Hand-washing is vital public health advice in this crisis but you can’t wash your hands, or prevent the spread of this virus, without access to water. 

The Great Lakes are our world’s largest surface fresh water supply. Yet many people in our Great Lakes communities do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. It was unacceptable before this crisis that anyone would be without clean, safe water in their home. But in the midst of a pandemic, it is unconscionable that people are without water. We commend the states and cities that have taken action to halt water shut-offs and restore residential water service during this crisis, and this work should continue after the crisis has passed.

We also see that the death toll from Covid-19 is highest among African Americans, the elderly, and those who suffer from chronic health conditions like asthma that are often the result of local pollution sources. Front line workers provide services that are critically needed to support our communities. These health care personnel, grocery store clerks, bus drivers, warehouse workers, and many others are bearing most of the risk. We must support those in need and those who are on the front lines during this crisis. 

Right now, the Great Lakes region can lead by protecting public health, and ensuring everyone has access to safe, clean water. And we – all of us around the Great Lakes – can decide to place safe and clean water at the center of our communities and make them healthier and more equitable than before. We’re urging Congress to invest in fixing our failing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. These investments support getting people back to work and protect public health, a win for everyone.

Looking forward, together we can create a Great Lakes region and a planet with thriving, healthy ecosystems and communities. Fifty years ago, the founders of the Lake Michigan Federation, which eventually became the Alliance for the Great Lakes, had a big vision for protecting our lakes. And fifty years ago, the founders of Earth Day had big hopes for harnessing the power of the people to protect our planet. I urge you to remember that passion, and think big about the next 50 years. 

This Earth Week, we planned to be outside, enjoying the lakes with thousands of supporters at hundreds of Spring Kickoff Adopt-a-Beach cleanups. Like you, many of our supporters also expected to join other Earth Day activities around the lakes, from small community tree plantings to massive youth Climate Strike rallies. 

We’re sad not to join you in person, but we can see you online. Join us to think big this week. What can you do to help the Great Lakes, our communities, and our planet?

The Alliance is organizing a week of activities to get the conversation started. You’ll see via email and social media Alliance activities you can do on your own, or with friends and family. We’ll ask you to chronicle your water and plastic use. And we’ll be asking you to think about the actions you can take to start on the next 50 years of Great Lakes protection. 

Join me, along with a few members of our staff, this Friday at 1 p.m. Central/2 p.m. Eastern for a Facebook Live event to chat about the Great Lakes and share your vision for the next 50 years. Keep an eye out on our social media channels for more details. 

These are tough times but I have faith in the resilience of our communities and our waters, and in the creativity of people like you. I hope you find a way to join me this week to look forward to the next 50 years.