Cleveland (Oh.) Plain Dealer
December 9, 2005

Can the Great Lakes be saved?

Scientists warn waters near ecological collapse

By John C. Kuehner and Stephen Koff, Plain Dealer Reporters

Scientists anticipating a massive Great Lakes restoration effort
warned Thursday that if drastic measures don't start soon, the lakes
could suffer irreversible damage affecting human health, fishing and

Alfred Beeton, former director of the Great Lakes Environmental
Research Laboratory and a researcher of the lakes for 50 years, said
the Great Lakes "are near the tipping point."

Beeton and researchers from the University of Michigan, Ohio State
University and institutions across the Great Lakes region issued their
warning in advance of next week's historic announcements on efforts to
overcome the lakes' long-term problems.

On Monday in Chicago, a task force representing governments, Indian
tribes and groups across the region will issue a far-reaching, $20
billion plan with strategies to restore and clean up the Great Lakes
after decades of pollution and misuse.

Then on Tuesday, the eight Lakes state governors and the premiers of
Ontario and Quebec will sign agreements in Milwaukee that will close
the door on water leaving the region for Asia, the southwestern United
States or anywhere else.

The Great Lakes are under tremendous stress from multiple factors,
such as invasive species of aquatic life, toxic substances,
overfishing and changes in land use. The lakes are in as bad a shape
as they were in the 1960s, except the problems are not obvious, said
Don Scavia, a natural-resources professor at the University of

Although there "is not a river burning," a reference to the Cuyahoga
River, the problems are just as severe. "There is plenty of evidence
-- it's not a cry wolf situation," he said.

Many other people, including Ohio's elected leaders, agree that the
lakes need restoration, and on Monday, a long-awaited blueprint for
change will be unveiled in Chicago. The Great Lakes Regional
Collaboration -- a consortium with support from President Bush -- is
expected to propose more barriers to keep out invasive species such as
the Asian carp and other fish that can cause ecological damage.

Governors, mayors, tribes and others will propose updating sewer
systems that pollute the lakes; stopping the runoff of oil, fertilizer
and other substances from yards, farms, factories and driveways; and
removing toxic sediments and mercury and PCBs that poison fish and
can, in turn, harm humans.

None of these recommendations are new. But numerous efforts in the
past lacked leadership, coordination and money.

The new effort may still have a money problem.

A July draft of the report-in-progress listed initiatives requiring
$20 billion from the federal government. The White House has rejected
that request, saying money can be used from existing lake programs.

Consequently, it is unclear whether the final plan on Monday will
include significant new federal spending. While Democrats and
environmentalists will complain, Republicans are already referring to
any lesser amount as a "down payment."

"Does anyone expect $20 billion? I don't know," said Mark Rickel, a
spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft. "But if not, you get the money for the
things that need to be taken care of now. Because this is a long-term

The separate agreement to be signed Tuesday will ban most water
diversions outside of the Great Lakes basin.

"We're not trying to prevent water from being used," said Sam Speck,
director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who headed the
group that negotiated the agreement. "The goal is to use it as wisely
as possible.

To reach these Plain Dealer reporters:, 216-999-5325, 216-999-4212

Copyright 2005 The Plain Dealer