Issue22_Features_Beach

Guest commentary: Save the Great Lakes

Mar 28 • Features • 638

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I remember a time when going to Presque Isle was all about sand castles and hunting for beach glass, because you sure as hell didn’t want to go swimming. If you wanted to swim in a lake, you went to Lake Pleasant, the Edinboro Lake or Lake LeBoeuf.
Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, our now beautiful backyard was slowly being resurrected from the dead, and that is not hyperbole, folks. Publications throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s frequently referred to Lake Erie as the “dead lake.”
Most factories of that era looked at the lakes as their personal landfill. City sewer waste and agricultural runoffs such as pesticides and fertilizers also found their way in. All this poison and garbage increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, which led to massive algal blooms.
These algal blooms depleted the oxygen, causing the shorelines to be littered with the bodies of dead and dying fish. It took members of the community, government officials, the collaboration of two countries and decades of arduous work to get it to where it is now. And now it is being threatened once again with President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal — threatened again when it is not even fully healed.
In 2014, Toledo residents awoke to warnings of no drinking and bathing in tap water because of a huge algal bloom. Many farms lining the lake both here and in Canada still have issues with agricultural runoff. The stem to this tide comes from agencies like the EPA, and Trump’s proposal would slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent. This in turn would lead to a 97 percent cut from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is funded by the EPA.
Now just as a reminder, let’s not forget that the Great Lakes make up 21 percent of the world’s freshwater resource. That makes them the largest freshwater supply in the world.
For those of you who didn’t get that, allow me to reiterate. It is the largest supply of drinking water IN THE WORLD! But the good people that our fellow citizens have elected to lead us and keep us safe from threats both foreign and domestic seem to have forgotten — or simply don’t care about — 30 million people who get their potable water from these lakes.
I don’t know about you, but a potential loss of drinking water for 30 million people sounds like a domestic threat to me. Now, what does this all have to do with the EPA?
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative focuses on four principal areas: cleaning up the Great Lakes’ areas of concern, preventing and controlling invasive species, reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms and restoring habitats to protect native species.
The initiative also gives scientific support and data that contribute to learning about and slowing climate change. And as I stated earlier, 97 percent of that funding could go away if Trump’s budget proposal is accepted.
This is not just about the Great Lakes, however. This is also about the whole country. The EPA has worked hard to protect our air and water quality diligently from coast to coast. The benefits that the EPA has given us, such as the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and the banning of DDT, are just the tip of the iceberg.
If Mr. Trump truly believed in making America great, he would not do so under a cloud of smog and with the constituency drinking sewage-filled water. Trump has repeatedly told his followers that he wants to bring jobs back to America, yet these cuts to the EPA will cost 3,200 employees their jobs. That is 19 percent of the EPA workforce.
Now I get the fact that the money used to protect our environment is needed for military spending and the border wall. Having a military with a budget equal to or greater than the top 11 countries of the world combined really does put us at risk for invasion.
I totally understand that with only 6,800 nukes, that leaves us 200 behind Russia’s inventory and second place is just a fancy name for first-place loser. The border wall is absolutely crucial to keeping illegal Mexicans out, because we all know that Mexicans can’t swim and have zero maritime skills.
And let’s not forget how the EPA strangles oil, coal and agriculture by holding them accountable for where they dump their garbage. It’s not like dumping their mess in rivers and lakes could start a fire like it did repeatedly to the Cuyahoga River. I mean, it came from the Earth, so what’s the harm in returning it?
It all comes down to the almighty dollar — how it is used and where it is spent and whose pocket it lines. Perhaps the administrator of the EPA will stand up for the importance of clean air and drinking water, even if he has attempted to sue the EPA several times before taking up the role as its head honcho. Perhaps the GOP and Trump will realize how little their billions of dollars will be if they are dying from dehydration or lung cancer.
These steps toward the future seem almost like we are stepping back to the past — a past where the skies were choked with smog, our beaches lined with dead fish and rivers of fire. It almost sounds like some kind of biblical apocalypse.
There is, however, a small ray of hope. Our Democratic party, of course, will fight this tooth and nail, and it would seem that the GOP is somewhat split. There are many Republicans from states lining the Great Lakes and they fully comprehend the impact this will have. So perhaps not all is lost. We may even be able to rely on our citizenry to call and harass their representatives to take a stand for our quality of life.
So, there are people in place to work toward the greater good of our precious lakes, to keep them beautiful and useable not only for us but for future generations. I mean, after all, this is our backyard we are talking about, and if we can’t drink the water from this precious resource, then we really will be in like Flint.

DANIEL KAUFMANN
kaufmann003@knights.gannon.edu

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