Proposed bill would cut Great Lakes funding
A bighead carp swims in an exhibit at the John Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. (Morgan Sherburne/News-Review file photo / July 24, 2012)
Recently, the House Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies approved the Fiscal Year 2013 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which is now headed for the House floor.
Under the bill, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will take a 17 percent hit in funding, says the Petoskey-based Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.
This news comes along with a few Asian carp announcements: first, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans released a study showing that not only could bighead carp, one species of Asian carp of concern, spread to lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie within 20 years through the Chicago Area Waterway System, it would take fewer than 10 adult females and less than 10 adult males to establish a population.
On the heels of that study's release, environmental DNA samples taken in August of 2011 from Lake Erie turned up six positive samples for Asian carp.
"It's been a bad week for Asian carp," said Jennifer McKay, policy specialist at Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey. "The majority of the funding for Asian carp controls have come out of that Great Lakes restoration funding. That is a vital program we can't really afford to be cutting at this point in time."
Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, points to projects in the Great Lakes region like the one that took place in Muskegon.
Muskegon Lake was named a Great Lakes Area of Concern in the late 1980s. A storm sewer deposited polluted discharge into the lake, which flows into Lake Michigan. The tons of mercury and petroleum compounds on the lake bottom contaminated fish and destroyed habitat -- both of which helped put the area onto the Great Lakes Area of Concern list.
A $12 million project helped removed 95,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the area -- funds that mainly came from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The Environmental Protection Agency helped with the project, which Ryan says illustrates the fund sharing between programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and government agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers. The restoration initiative funds also support Asian carp environmental DNA monitoring for the Corps.
"Often times, the Army Corps of Engineers has had to dip into Great Lakes Restoration Initiative dollars for emergencies for carp," said Ryan.
When dollars disappear from one portion of the restoration initiative funds to go toward an emergency use in another area, all programs lose out, said Ryan.
"We're encouraging that money to be separate, but of course, if that's the only funding available, we want it to be used," she said.
The budget, which supplies funding for such programs as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, includes a total of $28 billion in funding -- $1.2 billion below last year's level and $1.7 billion below President Obama's budget request, according to a press release from the subcommittee.
Kyle Bonini, communications director with the Office of Congressman Dan Benishek, says Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, will carefully read the bill before casting a vote on the House floor.
"As a lifelong resident of Upper Michigan and an avid sportsman, Dr. Benishek wants to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected for future generations of Northern Michiganders to enjoy," said Bonini. "Dr. Benishek is hopeful the legislation will strike a sensible balance between protecting Michigan's environment and reducing federal spending."
The office of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., supports funding for not only the Great Lakes, but for other water quality programs as well.
"Senator Levin supports funding for the Great Lakes, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides funding to states for wastewater projects to help prevent sewer overflows, protecting water quality," said Tara Andringa, press secretary for Levin. "The House appropriations bill dramatically cuts funding to these important programs, threatening the health of the Great Lakes and other water bodies. Sen. Levin will continue to urge the Senate appropriators to prevent these cuts in the final funding bill."
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