COLUMBUS, Ohio - Lake Erie can't speak for itself, so dozens of Ohioans will be its voice this week on Capitol Hill. They join hundreds from around the country to promote the importance of programs that keep the Great Lakes healthy and drinking water safe.
There are proposals for massive funding cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Farm Bill conservation programs that help reduce pollution runoff from agriculture. Kristy Meyer, vice president of policy and natural resources at the Ohio Environmental Council, said the cuts could be detrimental to Lake Erie.
"We consistently see a harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie," Meyer said. "And so what does that mean for this coming year? We've had a lot of rain, we've had a lot of snow melt, and we're going to have less funding to put best management practices on these farm fields."
Since 2010, $2.5 billion in Great Lakes Restoration funding has allowed more than 3,500 projects in the region to address a range of environmental challenges, improve habitat and fight invasive aquatic species. Thursday, March 8, is Great Lakes Day, when Meyer said they'll speak directly with the region's congressional delegation about their concerns.
Meyer said one major success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was the Mentor Marsh, one of the biggest natural marshes remaining along Lake Erie's shoreline. She explained that 2,500 acres of marsh and 600 acres of wetlands have been restored.
"That has recreated habitat for fish and wildlife, controlled flooding and reduced the amount of polluted runoff going into Lake Erie," she said. "Many projects like this across the Great Lakes have been a huge focus of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative."
Todd Ambs, campaign director at the Healing Our Waters - Great Lakes Coalition, said bipartisan support has helped the environment and the economy. But, he noted, serious threats remain - from drinking water and fish consumption advisories, to beach closures and toxic hot spots.
"It's certainly been an important down payment on a lot of the work across the region," Ambs said. "But as anybody who lives in the Great Lakes region knows, there's certainly much more to be done, and we want to keep that progress going."
According to the coalition, the Great Lakes provide drinking water for over 48 million people and support more than 1.5 million jobs.