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NEWS: The Great Lakes and the US presidential election, Nov. 6

The Wall Street Journal reports, “The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, which includes more than 100 groups in the region, (has asked Democratic and Republican presidential) candidates to promise if elected to continue an Obama administration program dealing with some of the Great Lakes’ most pressing environmental problems, including invasive species, toxic pollution, farm and urban runoff and wildlife habitat loss. …Obama and Romney were among candidates who took a similar pledge during the 2008 campaign. Obama followed up with a proposal to seek $5 billion over 10 years for Great Lakes restoration.”

“Congress has appropriated more than $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative since 2009. But supporters say billions more are needed over many years to fix the problems, which have been decades in the making.” In contrast, the Harper government allocated $8 million a year in the June 2010 federal budget to Environment Canada to “implement its action plan to protect the Great Lakes.” In Budget 2011, they announced an “additional $5 million over two years to improve near shore water and ecosystem health, and better address the presence of phosphorous in the Great Lakes.” The Council of Canadians has argued that the federal government should commit at least $500 million a fiscal year to begin to implement a comprehensive action plan to protect and clean-up to the Great Lakes.

Closing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal
The Wall Street Journal adds, “This time, however, the pledge sought by the coalition raises the thorny issue of whether to sever a link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi created a century ago when engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River and built a canal to flush away the city’s sewage. The waterway system has become an aquatic pathway for invasive species such as round gobies and zebra mussels. Now, greedy bighead and silver carp that have migrated up the Mississippi and its tributaries are threatening to use the network to invade the Great Lakes, where scientists say they could devastate native fish populations by out-competing them for plankton. A plan released last week by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Initiative called for placing one or more barriers in the waterways to permanently separate the two drainage basins. Its estimate cost was $3.3 billion to $9.5 billion.”

The Obama administration has resisted separation, arguing that its approach to stopping the carp is working well. It includes operating an electric barrier system in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to prevent carp and other fish from migrating between the two basins. The Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to complete a study of whether separation is justified in 2015. Five states — Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania —are suing in federal court for quicker action. Business interests and political leaders in Chicago and northern Indiana oppose separation, contending it would damage the regional economy and cause flooding.”

US presidential election
“The Great Lakes region includes heavily contested and vote-rich states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin. Michigan’s primary is Feb. 28 and Ohio is among states with a Super Tuesday primary on March 6.” The US presidential election takes place on Tuesday November 6, 2012.

Our speaking tour
The Council of Canadians, along with the US-based groups Food & Water Watch and On the Commons, are planning a 16-city speaking tour this May to defend the Great Lakes as a commons, public trust and a protected bio-region. Likely four of the tour stops will happen in American cities this spring, just months before the presidential election. Watch for details soon.

To read Maude Barlow’s ‘Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever‘, go to http://canadians.org/water/documents/greatlakes/GreatLakes-0311.pdf.