Salmon tainted with mercury, falling water levels and signs warning would-be swimmers of polluted waters all allude to the same, sad fact: The Great Lakes aren’t as great as the once were. The majestic lakes and the habitats that depend on them face continuing threats from pollution that must be dealt with immediately.

Sarah Royce

Sen. Carl Levin, (D-Michigan), Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D-Michigan) and Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Grand Rapids) are members of a bipartisan coalition from all eight of the states sharing Great Lakes coastline that introduced the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act to Congress last week. When Congress returns from its Easter holiday, it should vote to approve this bill, an important piece of legislation that aims to clean up polluted lakes, preserve and restore wildlife habitats, and help stop invasive species from upsetting the fragile ecosystem.

Though certainly beneficial, the bill is ambitious; it asks Congress for $23 billion in low-interest loans over the next five years. $20 billion would be used to modernize sewage systems to stop the flow of raw sewage from entering the Great Lakes water system during storms. The remaining $3.5 billion would allow states to clean up toxic waste sites, prevent invasive species from entering the lakes and restore wildlife habitats. This money is especially vital to Michigan: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the state has 14 of the 42 most toxic sites in the Great Lakes system.

The Great Lakes contain 95 percent of our continent’s fresh water supply, draw in billions of dollars every year for Michigan’s tourism industry and are home to an abundant array of wildlife. But according to the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force – an arm of the Environmental Protection Agency created by President Bush – the lakes are in danger. Yet, while Bush’s own task force and many other environmental groups argue that action must be taken now, the president slashed funding for the Great Lakes by 9 percent in this year’s budget, and the possibility of the bill passing is slim given the large deficits Congress is facing.

Still, the bipartisanship so integral in drafting and lobbying for this legislation is a good sign for Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region. It shows that politicians are able to come together despite ideology to generate progress beneficial to all residents. Our legislators should continue to push for this bill and advocate ardently for the protection of the Great Lakes – a shared and priceless resource.

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