Fishing and swimming at risk in Great Lakes with budget cuts, new report says

Environment America

Proposed cuts to EPA clean water programs would halt progress on restoring and protecting the Great Lakes, according to a new report released today by Environment America Research & Policy Center.  With a deadline for Congress to approve a federal budget fast approaching, the group called for full funding of the EPA to protect the Great Lakes.
“This week, millions of Americans are enjoying the last days of summer on the Great Lakes,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director with Environment America Research & Policy Center and a co-author of the report. “Cutting EPA’s clean water programs would put Great Lakes swimming, fishing, and even our drinking water, at risk.”

Rough Waters Ahead, issued today by Environment America Research & Policy Center, examined the impacts of the Trump administration’s proposed EPA budget cuts on the Great Lakes.  The report documented how EPA programs are reducing sewage overflows, cleaning up toxic hot spots, containing invasive species, and reducing runoff pollution.  Yet the administration’s budget would slash core EPA programs such as research and enforcement, eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and deprive the eight Great Lakes states of an estimated $56 million in clean water funding as well.*
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a long-time defender of the Great Lakes, echoed the concerns raised by today’s report:
“In Illinois, we treasure Lake Michigan – from the drinking water it provides to millions of people, to the commerce and tourism it brings to the Chicago area,” Senator Durbin said. “Through programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the EPA has helped us face challenges ranging from industrial pollution to invasive species. But President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate these efforts, hindering the environmental progress we’ve made. I will continue doing everything in my power to ensure that the EPA remains strong and can continue its work protecting Lake Michigan and all the Great Lakes for future generations.”

Together, Lakes Erie, Ontario, Huron, Michigan and Superior make up the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world and supply more than 40 million people with drinking water.  Yet the Great Lakes have had their share of pollution and other problems. It was the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, leading into Lake Erie, that served as a catalyst for the Clean Water Act.  More recently, the Great Lakes have faced 24 billion gallons of sewage overflows, more than two dozen toxic hot spots, algal blooms, and threats from invasive species like the Asian carp.

Even as Congress has just one month to approve the federal budget to avoid a government shutdown, the fate of Great Lakes funding remains unclear.  Next week, the House is expected to consider an EPA appropriations bill that would restore funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative but would also slash $250 million from the clean water state revolving fund that helps communities curb sewage overflows. Moreover, the outlines of EPA funding are even less clear in the Senate, which is expected to hold EPA appropriations hearings in mid-September.
This week, Environment America Research & Policy Center also detailed the impacts of EPA budget cuts on the Delaware River, and the group is planning similar reports for other waterways in early September.
“Swimming, fishing, and safe drinking water are deeply valued by people in the Great Lakes region and across America,” said Rumpler.  “It’s time for Congress to fully fund EPA clean water programs.”

*Correction (11/28/17): Estimated lost clean water funding has been corrected. As a result of a data analysis error, the original version of this statement underestimated potential lost funding.