Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Feingold Calls For Great Lakes Action: Here Are Followup Suggestions

US Senator Russ Feingold, (D-WI), has called for swift action to acknowledge and confront falling levels in Lakes Superior and Michigan.

It's good that a major political figure is finally willing to break out of the region's inertia and recognize that there are problems with the Great Lakes getting worse by the day.

Dredging for shipping by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the St. Clair River, a Great Lakes tributary which drains Lake Huron and borders the US and Canada, is believed to be a major reason - - but a fixable one - - for the needless daily loss of Great Lakes water through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean of more than two billion gallons a day.

Additionally, Lake Superior's level is hitting an historic low, most likely caused by changes in weather patterns; study by the appropriate bodies, with urgency, is among Feingold's suggestions.

A public hearing by the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and action by a joint, US-Canadian water management commission are pieces of Feingold's action plan.

Those efforts need to be followed by related activities, and promptly, because some studies to deal with these issues have completion dates five years away.

That's unacceptable.

Legislation to fund a fast-tracked plan to add fill to the damaged St. Clair River needs to be introduced in the Congress, with companion legislation on the Canadian side, too.

The Great Lakes Council of Governors, chaired by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, needs to call immediately for the quick adoption of remedial efforts in the St. Clair River, including longer-term, more permanent structural repairs and conservation improvements.

Grassroots organizations need to push for and support a package of legislative and scientific efforts; officials on a bi-partisan basis at the local, state and federal levels need to support these efforts, too.

Doyle and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago should also pledge the resources of UW-M's pioneering Wisconsin Aquatic Technology and Environmental Research (WATER) Institute as a coordinating technical body.

Wisconsin and Milwaukee are perfectly situated to take leadership; if they don't, it's a missed opportunity for the entire Great Lakes region, and certainly for UW-M, which has dreamed of playing a larger research role and now has that chance because of circumstances literally in its front yard.

Curiously, Santiago has pinned his hopes for an upgraded UW-M research identity on building a new engineering center on Milwaukee County-owned land in Wauwatosa, 12 miles from his admittedly-crowded East Side campus.

Yet Santiago admits he has no money to build or staff the proposed new facility, and if he did, then 50-82 acres would never make it onto the tax rolls - - reasons that suggest that his focus on new University bricks-and-mortar miss an important countywide goal.

Enhancing the WATER Institute, an existing UW-M, would be both a quicker and more sustainable win.

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