The Great Lakes are the lifeblood of Michigan. They provide a vital source of fresh drinking water and a vital source of industry from tourism and fishing. But because the state is so reliant on its lakes, it’s also necessary to protect them from environmental hazards like invasive species. To combat this problem, the U.S. Coast Guard recently proposed regulations that would lower the amount of invasive species introduced to the lakes by sea-faring cargo ships that dock in them. Congress should put these regulations into effect to safeguard a resource that Michigan cares about and needs to protect.

Ocean-faring ships’ ballast water, which is the water used to help ships maintain the appropriate weight and balance as they load and unload cargo, introduces many types of invasive species into the lakes. This water is picked up and dumped wherever necessary, and all kinds of organisms — from algae to fish — travel with that water to unfamiliar environments. Currently, regulations on ballast water are lax, though there have been recent movements to tighten regulations.

The ecosystem operates on a delicate balance, and foreign species can easily disturb that balance. Take, for example, the introduction to the Great Lakes of the zebra mussel, a striped mussel originally native to Eastern Europe. Some native animals like ducks can eat the zebra mussel — in their native environment, ducks are the zebra mussel’s most prevalent predator — but that hasn’t stopped the pesky invader from spreading rapidly across the Great Lakes region and forcing out native species. According to the National Sea Grant Library, zebra mussels carry parasites that infect local birds and colonize reefs so heavily that fish have no place to lay eggs.

The Coast Guard’s proposals are simply a practical way to bridge the needs of the shipping industry with the well-being of Michigan waters by approving these regulations is Congress’s responsibility. Though many states benefit from being able to use the Great Lakes for shipping, Michigan and its neighbors alone are suffering the environmental consequences. More carefully protecting the lakes makes this situation more fair to the Great Lakes states.

On top of the need to protect the environment, approving these regulations will actually be a money-saving move, too. Repairing the damage done by invasive species is an expensive endeavor — for the Great Lakes alone, it has cost more than $200 million a year, according to an Aug. 28 article by the Associated Press entitled “Coast Guard proposes water ballast rules.” The benefits to the environment notwithstanding, these regulations will save the state and federal governments plenty of cash in the long run.

The proposal is currently undergoing a comment period, which will last until November 27. Michigan residents should take advantage of the comment period by going to www.regulations.gov and showing support for the proposal. The Great Lakes are Michigan’s pride and joy, and it’s imperative that Congress takes whatever steps are necessary to protect them.

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