National Agenda for Great Lakes Restoration Calls for Strong Federal Leadership and Funding

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   September 16, 2004
Contact:   Amy A. LeFebre, Wondergem Consulting, Inc., P:616-235-7467


National Agenda for Great Lakes Restoration Calls for Strong Federal Leadership and Funding

Grand Rapids, Michigan - Compelled by serious threats to the health of the Great Lakes, national environmental leaders and scientists have set a first-ever agenda for priority actions the U.S. government must undertake to restore and protect the Great Lakes ecosystem, according to a new report released today by the Wege Foundation.

The report will be distributed to all members of Congress and a broad list of federal officials, policy makers and environmental experts this week and is available at www.healingourwaters.org.

Healing Our Waters: An Agenda for Great Lakes Restoration reports recommendations of nearly 100 scientists, environmental and conservation leaders, business and foundation professionals and educators from throughout the U.S. and Ontario, who called on the federal government to lead a coordinated effort to restore the Great Lakes.

“There are already federally supported, regional efforts to restore the Florida Everglades, the Chesapeake Bay and the Louisiana coastal region," said Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI). "These programs are sustained because a strong coalition of committed individuals and organizations rallies to support them. Hopefully, this report will spark a similar effort across America supporting the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes.”

The restoration agenda calls for $20 billion in new federal funding, to be managed in partnership with $10 billion from the Great Lakes basin states, to reduce pollution, prevent harm from invasive aquatic species, remove failing dams, upgrade sewage infrastructure, improve monitoring and evaluation, encourage use of renewable energy sources, and expand wetlands habitat. The report also calls on the federal government to reduce by 90 percent reductions in mercury emissions by 2007 and for federal funding and leadership to clean up and restore the 31 toxic “Areas of Concern” identified by the U.S. government 17 years ago.

“We must increase awareness of the serious consequences of degrading our Great Lakes," stated Tom Kiernan, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association and one of the authors of the recommendations. "These lakes contain over 95 percent of America's surface fresh water. They are an uniquely significant ecosystem, and home to places of exquisite natural beauty like Isle Royale, Indiana Dunes and the Apostle Islands National Parks.”

Great Lakes citizens, organizations and agencies have worked for years to address threats to the Lakes.

“Although we saw progress a generation ago, in the past decade the health of the Great Lakes has declined,” explained Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “The onslaughts of invasive species, pollution, and habitat destruction have combined to seriously stress fish and wildlife, and we are now seeing ecosystem-wide impacts that threaten the very life of the lakes. Without effective and immediate action at the federal and regional levels, the future of the Great Lakes is in peril.

“The Great Lakes need a coordinated national initiative to develop a comprehensive restoration plan and to ensure its adequate funding, implementation and enforcement,” Buchsbaum said.

The Lakes supply drinking water to over 30 million people; provide habitat to diverse and unique fish and wildlife populations; and support a vibrant mix of sports, recreation, manufacturing and commercial enterprises.

“If we take care of important ecological resources like the Great Lakes, we will take care of our economy,” said Peter Wege, president of the Wege Foundation, sponsor of the Healing Our Waters project. “Clean air, clean water and the proper disposal of waste are and will continue to be the life-saving forces of this planet. The Great Lakes are among the most important and vulnerable ecosystems on earth. The toxins, non-native species and pollutants we carelessly allow to invade and linger in our Lakes not only spoil this unique environment, but threaten our very health and well-being.”

The specific recommendations in the report were developed through a series of online discussions and a May 2004 conference at Steelcase University in Grand Rapids, where an outline of the agenda for restoration was released on May 27. The full report released this week outlines the important federal role, gives background to the recommendations and discusses next steps.

In the report, the Wege Foundation calls on those who participated in the Healing Our Waters project along with other committed organizations and individuals to mount a sustained and systemic effort to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

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