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GREAT LAKES: CLIMATE OF UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDS GREAT LAKES BUDGET CUTS
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There has been talk about rumoured massive budget cuts to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. These cuts would affect the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence water system, the source of drinking water for 40 million people on both sides of the border. US budget has not been presented and the discussion is taking place in an environment of uncertainty.
We spoke with David Ulrich, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, about the situation. The Cities Initiative was formed in 2003 and represents local governments when decisions are made concerning the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence region. The group is made up of a 128 member cities, 70 percent are Canadian. The collective population represented by the Cities Initiative is over 17 million.
A Cities Initiative blog post states that the proposed cuts would reduce the EPA budget by 25%. The blog also states that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) budget would be cut "97% from $300 million to $10 million." The GLRI exists to clean areas of concern (toxic hotspots), controlling invasive species, preventing algal blooms, and restoring habitat to protect native species.
Ulrich suggests that "it is very unlikely" that the cuts will happen. The scope of the cuts, Ulrich adds is "well beyond what anyone could have reasonably imagined, [and] is cause for concern for the Great Lakes." Ulrich adds "if there were cuts of that magnitude it would virtually bring work there to a halt" on clean up efforts on the five bi-national toxic hotspots.
According to the Executive Director one of the major concerns for member cities in this context is "nutrient loadings in the Great Lakes, particularly the western basin of Lake Erie which is generally ground zero for algal blooms". The blooms have an effect on drinking water and have been linked to water advisories north and south of the border. Ulrich says blooms "lead to the formation of Microcystins and other toxins that are dangerous for water supplies".
Ulrich says that the Cities Initiative has "not seen any hard numbers" on the budget cuts. The group is focusing on educating the general public about the situation in the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence. Ulrich is counting on the fact that "we are fortunate enough to live in democracies on both sides of the border." Ulrich believes that the general public putting pressure on their local elected officials is important and that Canadians speaking through the Ambassador have a strong voice.
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