BY JILL M. RYAN
---- — Great Lakes restoration activities have enjoyed bipartisan support for many years. There is nothing controversial about a healthy Great Lakes region. Millions of people enjoy swimming, boating, fishing — and drinking clean, good-tasting water — in eight U.S. states, including ours. We all enjoy the quality of life the Great Lakes and their waters provide. Earlier this year, nearly 40 members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — asked their colleagues to support $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Unfortunately, a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee released a bill that drastically cuts funding for Great Lakes programs. The bill slashes the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by nearly 80 percent — from the current level of $285 million to a proposed $60 million for fiscal year 2014. The bill also slashes funding to help communities fix old sewers, cutting more than 80 percent of the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund - from the current level of $1.03 billion to a proposed $250 million for fiscal year 2014.
In addition to the many benefits the Great Lakes provide its residents, our region is the third-largest economy in the world, after the U.S. as a whole and Japan. A healthy and functioning Great Lakes are essential to the longevity of the region’s economy. If we stop investing in our lakes now, we not only lose the headway we have made, restoration expenses dramatically increase and problems compound even more over time.
Members of Congress around the Great Lakes region have accomplished great things for our Great Lakes in the past few years and we are seeing those investments pay off. As a staff member of Freshwater Future, I have personally seen the many great benefits these programs have provided to various local communities on the ground throughout the Great Lakes region. Here in Northern Michigan where I live, projects to prevent the spread of invasive species and projects to improve both Little Traverse Bay and Grand Traverse Bay water quality have been funded. Efforts like these will allow our waterways to heal and create new economic investment incentives in the area. Many, many more stories just like this can be found at healthylakes.org.
As part of having a healthy Great Lakes, we also need a strong Environmental Protection Agency to implement environmental regulations that are critical to the health of our lakes. Cutting funding that is critical to the EPA will result in weaker protections for our Lakes.
I offer my sincere thanks to members of Congress for the work they have done thus far to support restoration funding and I urge them to hold strong and reject the budget cuts to the EPA and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I understand that these are tough fiscal times, but times are even tougher for the health of our Great Lakes. The longer we wait, the more expensive and difficult these clean ups and restorations will be. Our communities can’t wait for clean drinking water, healthy fishing and safe beaches.
About the author: Jill M. Ryan is Executive Director of Freshwater Future, a bi-national organization dedicated to ensuring a healthy future of waters in the Great Lakes region. Jill is a former co-chair of the Healing Our Waters Coalition. She resides in Petoskey where she enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, biking and camping.
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