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GLIN==> "Sixth Great Lake" finally gets its due - New Release

For immediate release
Jan. 17, 2001

U.S., Canadians tackle Lake St. Clair problems

“Sixth Great Lake” finally gets its due

Ann Arbor, Mich. — The body of water sometimes known as the “Sixth Great Lake” is finally getting treated like one.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a coordinated effort with the Great Lakes Commission and a binational coalition of public and private interests, is developing a plan to address the many environmental problems facing Lake St. Clair, including pollution, invasive species and diminished habitat. Participants include U.S. and Canadian federal, state, provincial and local agencies; tribal/First Nation authorities; private sector interests; citizen groups; and other stakeholders.

    Lt. Col. Richard Polo, Commander of the Detroit District, Army Corps of Engineers, says the plan will address such issues as the sources and causes of environmental degradation; habitat and biodiversity; land use and coastal management; recreational boating; and commercial navigation.

    “Simply put, it will yield a vision for the lake and a blueprint for achieving that vision,” Polo said.

    The goal is to reach consensus on management principles and actions among the many government agencies and interests with a role or responsibility in the watershed.

    “The plan will cover both Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River,” said Great Lakes Commission Chairman Nat Robinson. “What we're going to do is evaluate the environmental stresses and make recommendations to restore and protect the lake, the river, and the surrounding watershed.”

    Similar plans are already in place for the five Great Lakes and for many of their tributary rivers with significant pollution problems, including one for the St. Clair River itself. Although part of the Great Lakes system, until recently Lake St. Clair has been largely left out of those programs, leading some to call it the “forgotten lake.”

    “In the Great Lakes basin, Lake St. Clair is often an afterthought — the poor, neglected cousin of the five big lakes,” said Congressman David Bonior, whose district covers most of the lake’s U.S. shore. “But I’m here to tell you: Lake St. Clair can no longer be our secret. It needs national and international attention.”

    Bonior sponsored the legislation authorizing the plan, which Congress passed as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999.

    The driving force behind the plan is concern over the lack of a single entity, or process, responsible for coordinating restoration and protection efforts in the Lake St. Clair watershed. The plan will link ongoing efforts and heighten the profile of Lake St. Clair at the federal level, where it has often been left out of discussions regarding the Great Lakes.

    State Rep. William Callahan, a member of Michigan's delegation to the Commission, says the plan will help bring together the many players involved to evaluate the lake’s problems and develop realistic solutions for eliminating them.

    “It’s taken us 100 years to dig ourselves into this deplorable hole,” he said. “While we’ve gotten better through the years, I think this should be a quantum leap forward in the search for a solution.”

    Problems affecting the lake include frequent beach closures due to E. coli contamination; an onslaught of invasive species such as the zebra mussel; the loss of wetlands and other vital habitat along its shores; water pollution from industries, sewage overflows, leaking septic tanks, fertilizer and pesticide runoff from farms and lawns; and intensive suburban development in its watershed.

    A draft of the management plan is to be the centerpiece of a U.S.-Canadian “State of Lake St. Clair Conference” scheduled for this fall, with final approval of the plan expected by the end of the year.

    Approximately 26 miles long and 24 miles wide, Lake St. Clair is relatively small compared to its five sister lakes. It is shallow, with an average depth of only 10 feet. Yet it is a giant in its own way. One of the finest muskellunge and walleye fisheries in the world, Lake St. Clair yields 1.5 million fish each year, one-third of the entire sportfishing catch in the Great Lakes. The St. Clair River delta, which feeds the lake at its northern end, is the largest coastal delta in the entire Great Lakes system and provides habitat for large numbers of fish and migrating waterfowl. Five million people depend on the lake for their drinking water.

    Economically, Lake St. Clair is a crucial link in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence transportation system. On average, commercial vessels pass through the lake some 3,000 times each year, using the shipping channel dredged through the center of the lake. More than 150,000 recreational boats are registered on the U.S. side of Lake St. Clair alone, pumping an estimated $260 million in boating-related activities into the local economy each year.

Contact:  Mike Donahue or Matt Doss
Phone:  734-665-9135
Fax:  734-665-4370
E-mail:  mdonahue@glc.org or mdoss@glc.org

The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Nathaniel E. Robinson (Wisconsin), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency created by state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of state legislators, agency officials, and governors’ appointees from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a "Declaration of Partnership." The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.