Great Lakes groups ask presidential candidates to make greatest freshwater resource a priority

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition (in which MEP and other MEP member organizations participate) called on presidential candidates to respond its new Great Lakes platform, a framework for solving the pressing challenges that threaten this priceless resource.

1 in 10 people live in the Great Lakes basin, which contains most of North America’s surface fresh water. It’s vital that our federal leaders have a plan to address this resource’s needs. MEP agrees with our partners in Minnesota and around the region that every presidential candidate should demonstrate their knowledge and ability to address our region’s environmental needs during the 2020 election cycle.

The platform items are broad, leaving room for political leaders to implement their own plans, but each one is critical for the health of the Great Lakes:

Support $475 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The GLRI has been a lifesaver for Great Lakes communities, both economically and environmentally. It’s expected to have generated $3.36 for every dollar spent on the program by 2036, and has restored habitat, recreation areas, and waterways in communities like Duluth.

The GLRI has enjoyed bipartisan support for its current annual funding level of $300 million, but our federal leaders need to scale it up – and fully support the other solutions listed in this platform – to truly meet the Great Lakes’ needs.

Triple funding to fix drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. The Great Lakes hold about one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water, from which millions of people in the United States and Canada draw their drinking water. This resource cannot be taken for granted – pollution and outdated infrastructure threaten human health around the Great Lakes. This problem is solvable, given enough investment, but it must be made a priority by federal lawmakers.

Uphold, enforce and strengthen – not weaken – clean water protections. Minnesota’s own “inland sea” – Lake Superior – is considered the cleanest of the Great Lakes, but it’s certainly not free from threats. North Shore communities and people around the Lakes deserve strong, enforced protections from threats like mercury, mining waste, industrial spills, and agricultural runoff. Great Lakes pollution especially threatens indigenous people, including in Minnesota, who rely on Lake Superior fish as a major food source. We need to immediately ramp up efforts to reverse the pollution of this watershed.

Reduce harmful algal blooms across the region. Algal blooms are a threat to individual Great Lakes communities, like Toledo, Ohio, but also represent a wider danger to the interconnected ecosystem. Minnesota faces our own crisis of fertilizer contamination of our lakes and rivers, and addressing this problem across the entire Great Lakes region would be a strategic step forward.

Prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. Aquatic invasive species are one of the greatest threats facing the Great Lakes region, and Minnesota’s North Shore is no exception. Our state has taken action to combat invasives, but it’s clear that a federal strategy and cooperation with Canada are needed to tackle this threat on the necessary scale. Fully implementing and building on the VIDA legislation passed last year to address ballast water contamination (a major source of aquatic invasives) is an important presidential responsibility.

We’re encouraged by the work of grassroots activists and organizations to spotlight environmental issues in the 2020 election. Minnesota voters – and those around the country – deserve to know our leaders plan to protect our greatest freshwater resource.

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