This is a guest post from Michigan Lt. Governor John Cherry, who has been working recently to preserve and restore the Great Lakes.
I’m especially pleased to be a guest blogger on Grist today, since earlier today legislation was introduced in the United States Senate and House of Representatives to ratify the Great Lakes Compact. Now that the Compact has been ratified by the eight Great Lakes states, as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, it’s time for Congress to take the next crucial step and grant its consent to the Compact.
All Michigan citizens have a deep personal connection to the Great Lakes. I grew up in a culture where people worked hard and long during the work week, but when vacations or weekends came along they loved to get away “to the lake,” “to the cottage,” or just “up north.” And in the Legislature, as lieutenant governor of the state of Michigan, and as chair of the Great Lakes Commission (whose members are Great Lakes States in the United States and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Provinces in Canada), I have been in positions to make a difference in preserving, protecting, and where necessary restoring the vitality of the Lakes. Perhaps for these reasons, as well as because I personally enjoy spending time on the water, I have a strong sense of stewardship toward the Lakes.
I am spending time this summer visiting Michigan communities along the shores of the Lakes to highlight the importance of the Lakes to our state’s economy and quality of life, the environmental challenges the Lakes are facing, and to talk with citizens about solutions to these challenges. I am also working with the State of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and other members of the Healing Our Waters Coalition to develop a comprehensive set of policies to address our challenges and to ensure that people will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of the Lakes as they have for generations. My tour this summer is part of that effort, and once policies have been developed, the Office of the Great Lakes and MUCC will hold hearings throughout Michigan at which citizens can respond and make additional suggestions.
Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have signed pledges to fund the restoration of the lakes. So no matter who the next president of the United States is, our goal is to put this comprehensive plan on his desk near the beginning of his term. We want to make it as easy as possible for President Obama or President McCain to hit the water paddling, so to speak, when it comes to restoring and preserving the Great Lakes.
Over the years, I have met many people who, upon first seeing Lake Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie, or Superior, said something along the lines of, “Gee, I didn’t know you couldn’t see across them!” For those who haven’t spent much — or any — time on any of the five Great Lakes, I’d like to share a few facts about the lakes, their importance to the vitality of Michigan and the region, and the challenges the lakes face.
Formed by receding glaciers 10,000 years ago, the Great Lakes today are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world. In fact, they hold about 22 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. The shoreline of the lakes is more than 10,000 miles long, so it is little wonder that the Lakes are sometimes called the nation’s “Third Coast” (Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Mich. even makes a beer honoring that nickname).
The lakes have always provided a critical foundation for Michigan’s economy — whether it was fur trappers plying the Lakes to deliver pelts to trading centers, loggers shipping lumber back east or even west to Chicago, or the automotive industry, which used the Great Lakes to gather the resources that they shaped into the modern-day car. It is inevitable that our Great Lakes will shape Michigan (and the region’s) future economy as well, but that economy will only be as vibrant as the Great Lakes are healthy.
And the health of the lakes has been slowly eroding. Decades of contamination by waste and pollutants, coupled with an aging infrastructure, have left much work ahead to fully clean and restore our lakes. Invasive species, such as the sea lamprey, zebra mussels, and gobies continue to change the ecosystem of the lakes.
State and local governments on the shores of the Great Lakes invest billions of dollars each year to further Great Lakes restoration and to protect their vitality for our citizens. But it is not enough — the federal government must be a full partner in this effort. Gov. Granholm and I have urged federal lawmakers to reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which will preserve federal funds for this work. As chair of the Great Lakes Commission, I testified in May before a critical U.S. House subcommittee on the importance of reauthorizing the Legacy Act. You can read my prepared testimony here.
I will continue to work — and fight when necessary — to ensure that the Great Lakes are more than a regional priority, but are a national priority. The economic health and the quality of life for millions of people — in both the United States and Canada — are directly affected by the health of the Great Lakes.
I’ve been blogging during my travels this summer, and will continue to do so. I’ve provided links to my most recent blog entries at Michigan Liberal, West Michigan Rising, and Blogging for Michigan. I hope you’ll take the time to read about the specific communities I’ve visited and the work taking place there to restore and protect the Great Lakes.
I appreciate the opportunity to be a guest blogger today, and would like to leave you with a quote from a book by Jacqueline Stewart, who gave me a book she authored, called The Glaciers’ Treasure Trove. It’s a delightful guide to the “Crescent Coast,” which stretches from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to New Buffalo, Michigan. I believe that she has captured the sense of beauty, and mystery, of the lakes:
Gilded shoreline promenades;
Enchanted water that draws you into it, onto it, under it, and
Bathes you in its breaking waves;
Alchemist dunes, transmuting their cloaks of glittering cottonwood
Into dark hardwood forests as they roll inland;
Now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t rocks, embedded with
Memories of the deep;
Weather that thunders, flashers, splashes and explodes its way
across the lake.
Secrets long buried in time’s sands await discovery by the knowing