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Good and Bad News about the Great Lakes

Clean Wisconsin

Is there any good news about clean water?

Yes. But first, the bad.

Lake Erie is experiencing unprecedentedly intense algae blooms, and Lake Michigan might not be far behind. The worst algae bloom in history severely contaminated the waters of western Lake Erie this summer, prompting concerns about whether the decades-long effort to clean up the lake may be undone by agricultural runoff and the spread of invasive species.

Lake Erie is the first line of attack, ahead of Lake Michigan, for the enormously harmful combination of polluted runoff and invasive species.The National Wildlife Federation released a report Oct. 12 documenting new and massive ecosystem breakdowns in the Great Lakes caused by interactions between excessive agricultural pollution and invasive zebra and quagga mussels. The report details the links between enormous algal blooms in Lake Erie that threaten the health of people and wildlife and a 95 percent decline in fish biomass in Lake Huron

Things are so bad that they’ve garnered the attention of the U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, convened a hearing to discuss the causes and impacts of nutrient pollution in the U.S. and various approaches toward mitigating its effects. Sen. Cardin observed that, “Despite the protections of the Clean Water Act, the problem nationwide continues to grow… From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Long Island Sound to San Francisco Bay, we must address the pollution in America’s waters by dealing with all the pollution … through comprehensive efforts.”

This is a crisis in the Great Lakes system, and soon may be a crisis for Lake Michigan. There are many ways to approach a crisis.

Florida is illustrating the wrong way to do it. Most recently, Rich Budell, director of the office of Agricultural Water Policy at Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, criticized nutrient regulations at the hearing Sen. Cardin convened, despite acknowledging the nutrient pollution problems in Florida. Mr. Budell joins the wrong direction club with his fellow Floridian, Rep. John Mica, who introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to gut the Clean Water Act.

President John F. Kennedy said, “In times of crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”

Here is the good news—in the face of these horrible threats, Wisconsin is coming together. We aren’t fighting regulations on behalf of some industries at the expense of everyone else. We’re working together to find manageable solutions. Wisconsinites came together last year to pass an innovative set of rules to address phosphorus in our waterways. These rules let permittees avoid expensive technology costs in favor of finding cost-effective ways to restore water quality in the watershed. Throughout Wisconsin, permittees will be able to fund clean-up efforts from our largest source of nutrient pollution—agricultural runoff. Doing so will clean up our waters and allow us to avoid expensive phosphorus-control technology.

By working together to find solutions in these troubling environmental times, we can all look forward to a future of cleaner lakes.

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