Three environmental dangers are terrorizing the Midwest’s beloved Great Lakes. A report released last week by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, outlined climate change, pollution and invasive species as the most pressing dangers facing the lakes. The report also predicted that if these issues are not addressed, water levels could fall by three feet and biological dead zones, areas devoid of fish and plant life, could increase as well. These consequences have to be avoided.

The coalition’s report, which represents more than 100 advocacy groups, is requesting $20 billion in funding from the federal government to deal with these issues. The funds would go towards preventing pollution, adopting water quality control indicators and updating the Great Lakes’ aging sewer treatment technology. The report also calls for toxic areas to be cleaned up by 2015 and for all ocean-going vessels to be banned from the lakes in order to stop invasive species from entering.

The U.S. Senate will begin debate next week about global warming legislation, debate that may end up generating funding for efforts to restore the Great Lakes. The federal government should fund the cleanup efforts immediately. In granting such funding, everyone has something to gain; many states outside the Great Lakes region also benefit from a healthy lakes system. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the lakes sustain the livelihoods of 10 percent of the U.S. population.

But it’s important to clarify that federal funding shouldn’t equate to a federally controlled cleanup effort. The eight states bordering the lakes are the ones that should create solutions and man regional repair efforts, as is being attempted right now with the Great Lakes Compact. Emphasizing regional control prevents cleanup from getting bogged down in federal bureaucracy.

The country cannot allow any of its most appealing natural environments to be destroyed. Federal funding is needed to restore the Great Lakes ecosystems and maintain them for future generations of lake lovers who depend on them. The possibility of losing the Great Lakes should be a haunting projection of the future for the residents of the Midwest – one that must be avoided at all cost.

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