Lakes need time to heal, but progress being made

There's something peculiarly Midwestern about the successes realized in taking better care of the Great Lakes generally, and Saginaw Bay specifically.

BY: Steve Griffin, Midland Daily News

There’s something peculiarly Midwestern about the successes realized in taking better care of the Great Lakes generally, and Saginaw Bay specifically.

That’s according to Cameron Davis, senior adviser on Great Lakes issues to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. Davis delivered the keynote address at a Saginaw Bay Watershed Conference Friday at Saginaw Valley State University.

“In my 21/2 years since being appointed,” said Davis, “I’ve come to realize that we’re really fortunate, not just lucky, that we have something going for us,” in obtaining federal funding to return to health the big lakes.

“We in this region know how to talk to one another. We don’t always agree, but do talk. You could call it a Midwestern thing … and without that dynamic we would not have the GLRI.”

And it was that Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has fueled many of the success stories outlined in the all-day series of presentations, workshops and posters that drew about 200 participants from government, conservation organizations, universities and industry.

In the Bay region, Davis said, success has been tasted in battling toxic contamination and invasive aliens, and in promoting near-shore health, habitat and wildlife populations.

On a regional basis, Chicago-area beach closings and swimming bans are at a five-year low, Davis said. Programs addressing the threat of invasive Asian carp are under way. More than 20,000 acres of wetlands have been restored, including 1,000 in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Removal of some Area of Concern designations are imminent. And officials are exerting ever-more control of invasive sea lampreys.

In the near term, Davis said a major GLRI emphasis will be on battling nutrient runoff into Saginaw Bay, where it fosters growth of undesirable algae.

Here, a new GLRI effort will devote $10 million to cutting phosphate pollution in Kearsley Creek and Swartz Creek near Flint, which Davis said the EPA and other federal agencies have identified “as places to take a first bite in reducing phosphorous runoff.”

“We’re not going to see results tomorrow,” Davis said. “We wish we would, but if we don’t start today, we’ll wait much longer.”

Indeed, he said, “The Great Lakes are not going to be restored overnight.”

He likened the process to medical care: “You can take every possible action, but at a certain point the ecosystem has to (have time to) recover. You have to be patient with the patient while it recovers.”

Davis said a major goal within his agency is looking ahead, what he called creating a management “telescope” to anticipate new problems in the future and start dealing with them.

He cited a recent book by Michigan author Dave Dempsey, who wrote that biologists knew zebra mussels threatened to invade the Great Lakes, “and we couldn’t move fast enough,” Davis said.

For Fiscal Year 2010, Davis said that President Obama requested and Congress appropriated $475 million for GLRI projects, administered through EPA. That fell to $300 million in succeeding years, and Obama has proposed another $300 million for FY 2013 and recently said he favored extending the Initiative into 2014.

Funding at any level is a solid endorsement of the effort in tight-budget times, said Davis. “It continues to be funded, “and that’s more evidence of how we get along in this area.”

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