Contact: Jon MacDonagh-Dumler,
Great Lakes Commission
Key provisions would have generational impact
Senate urged to address Great Lakes needs in WRDA legislation
Ann Arbor, Mich. – Great Lakes advocates are urging Congress to reauthorize the long-delayed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), with provisions to address the region’s critical needs included in the final legislation.
At stake are measures to protect the Great Lakes against infestation by destructive Asian carp, safeguard the Soo Locks against a catastrophic failure that could cripple the region’s economy, and determine if water levels in lakes Huron and Michigan are declining due to erosion in the St. Clair River, along with other initiatives to protect and manage the region’s water resources.
“Each of these issues could have generational impacts across the Great Lakes region, both environmentally and economically,” said Tom Huntley, chair of the Great Lakes Commission. “In terms of both the benefits they provide and adverse consequences they help us avoid, the results of these actions will be with us for years to come.”
Last reauthorized in 2000, WRDA would authorize national flood, storm and shoreline protection projects; environmental restoration; and improvements to critical infrastructure of the nation’s waterways and ports. The House passed its version of the bill (H. 2864) last year; the Senate is expected to take up its version (S. 728) in July.
Among its main Great Lakes provisions is authorization for the completion and long-term operation of an electronic Asian carp barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The barrier is needed to protect the lakes against a potential infestation by non-native Asian carp, voracious feeders that threaten to decimate the base of the Great Lakes food chain if they become established. Though Congress recently passed emergency legislation providing temporary funding, the barrier’s future remains unsettled
“We’re grateful for Senate action in June to provide emergency stop-gap funding for the Asian carp barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal,” said Michigan. Lt. Gov. John Cherry, vice chair of the Commission. “We urge senators to take the next step by authorizing completion and long term-operation of that barrier.”
Great Lakes proponents are also urging that several Great Lakes provisions not included in the Senate bill but approved by the House be retained in the final legislation negotiated between the two chambers. Among them is a study into whether an enlarged St. Clair River channel is causing lakes Huron and Michigan to drain more rapidly than normal and a provision for a new shipping lock at Sault St. Marie.
A privately funded study previously concluded that historic dredging and erosion in the St. Clair River may have led to an approximately 10-inch drop in water levels on the upper lakes over the past 30 years. The proposed study would evaluate whether this is the case and, if so, provide a basis for remedial action.
The large lock replacement project, on the region’s “wish list” for nearly three decades, would add a second large lock on the St. Mary’s River capable of handling the 1,000-foot ships that carry the vast majority of Great Lakes cargoes. Currently, a single large lock at Sault Ste. Marie handles nearly 80 percent of the cargo moving between Lake Superior and the other lakes. If that lock were to fail, either by accident, malfunction or terrorist attack, Great Lakes maritime commerce would be crippled, including the entire U.S. supply of iron ore.
“The Great Lakes are one of our nation’s most important natural resources,” said Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, chair of the Commission’s Illinois Delegation. “It is imperative that we pass legislation to protect our water resources and address the critical needs of the Great Lakes.”
The three officials also urged that these additional provisions from the House bill be preserved during the conference process reconciling the two bills:
• reauthorization of the Tribal Partnership program to provide technical and planning assistance to manage water resources on Native American lands; and
• authorization for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to employ its planning and engineering expertise on waterfront restoration and remediation projects.
Both the House and Senate versions of the WRDA legislation currently include a number of other provisions that would offer significant benefits to the Great Lakes region, among them:
• authorization for the removal of obsolete or deteriorating dams, or modification of dam operations, in order to preserve valuable habitat by restoring natural flow conditions and protect downstream resources against possible dam failures;
• authorization of projects consistent with the St. Clair River-Lake St. Clair Comprehensive Management Plan, which addresses environmental problems such as pollution and invasive species in the watershed; and
• reauthorization of the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration program for projects to restore Great Lakes fisheries and their beneficial uses.
Contact: Jon MacDonagh-Dumler, Great Lakes Commission, 734-971-9135, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by the Hon. Thomas E. Huntley (Minnesota), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great LakesSt. 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.
Great Lakes Commission
The Hon. Thomas E. Huntley, Chair; Thomas R. Crane, Interim Executive Director
Eisenhower Corporate Park • 2805 S. Industrial Hwy. Suite 100 • Ann Arbor, Michigan • 48104-6791
734-971-9135 • Fax: 734-971-9150 • Web: www.glc.org
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