Great Lakes Leadership

If there was ever a day when the Great Lakes need presidential – and presidential candidate –leadership, today is it.

First there’s this week’s release of the latest Asian carp eDNA tests by the Army Corps of Engineers from a single sampling day: 17 positive hits for silver carp past the electronic fence, including 14 in Lake Calumet, a direct shot to Lake Michigan, only five miles away. That’s bad – really bad. Never before has a single sampling event yielded that many positive hits in the Chicago waterways system. In fact, there were only 34 positive hits for Asian carp in all of 2011, and we just got half of that in one sampling day (May 22). Although the Corps cautions that eDNA readings don’t necessarily mean the presence of live fish, that’s pretty hard to argue with so much evidence in such a short time period. It’s pretty clear that the Asian carp are advancing past the electronic fence toward Lake Michigan. The question is how long it takes them to establish a breeding population….and whether our political leaders will act before it’s too late.

Then there’s funding for Great Lakes restoration. Today, the subcommittee considering the EPA’s budget in the  U.S. House of Representatives cut Great Lakes restoration funding by $50 million for next year. That reduces it to $250 million, almost a 50 percent decrease from the $475 million baseline passed in 2010. This, despite the fact that restoring the Great Lakes has proven to be an excellent investment ecologically AND economically; that over 600 projects are underway in eight states that put people back to work; and that the need for restoration work is greater than ever.  Talk to Rick Unger, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, and you’ll hear how algal blooms are decimating Lake Erie and the region’s businesses (including his own). He’ll tell you how important Great Lakes restoration funding is to anybody who fishes, works, or drinks water.

So, what to do, and who should do it? I have an easy answer: President Obama and Governor Romney can fix both of these, right now.  Both of them should publicly commit to maintaining Great Lakes restoration funding – no cuts – and tell their allies in the House and Senate to get in line. Both of them should announce their commitment to building a permanent barrier in the Chicago canals as soon as possible to stop the invasive carp from advancing any further toward Lake Michigan – and to doing whatever it takes to get that barrier in place ASAP. Both of them should tell their respective party leaders to provide the funding and authority needed to stop the carp. And both of them should sign the Great Lakes pledge issued by the Healing Our Waters Coalition, which asks for precisely these commitments.

Sometimes leaders have to make tough and unpopular decisions to do the right thing. This isn’t one of those times. The right thing is to protect 90 percent of the nation’s surface fresh water, the drinking water of 30 million Americans, and the engine for a multi-million dollar economy. The easy thing is to preserve the water wonderland of the people in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota – which just happen to be 2012 presidential swing states.

The Great Lakes need leadership – and this one’s easy. Will the presidential candidates step up?

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