A new year brings new opportunities for recreation and commercial interests along the Great Lakes. It also means seven gubernatorial elections in states that border the lakes, and growing concern over climate change.
Great Lakes Today asked environmental groups and others for their thoughts on 2017 – and what’s to come in the new year. One issue stood out: the wide gap between regional interests and the Trump administration.
But it also led to the environmentalists' best moment of the year, too. Responding to the threat, Congress and communities banded together to show their bipartisan support, and the funding was restored in the federal budget.
Jim Ridge of Share the River said the renewed community interest was reminiscent of the response to the Cleveland's Cuyahoga River fire back in 1969.
“Americans (both individuals and grass roots organizations) decided their natural resources were worth fighting for,” he said.
The year also brought some personally memorable moments: Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Joel Brammeier said that for the first time, his children asked to hike at Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Minnesota Sea Grant noted the Oct. 24 storm on Lake Superior that caused the largest recorded wave – nearly 29 feet tall – on the Great Lakes. They also noted the first crude oil symposium, which brought representatives from Canada and the U.S. to Cleveland to discuss crude oil transportation.
Asked about their concerns for 2018, environmental advocates mentioned short-sighted officials, bad laws and politically motivated decisions.
Minnesota Sea Grant educators also worry about the effects of climate change: the ice cover is decreasing every year, while severe storms increase.
Representatives from Milwaukee Riverkeeper wonder how cuts to the EPA and other federal agencies will affect projects funded by the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Ridge will be watching the growing campaign to rename the Rust Belt the “Water Belt.”
When it comes to water quality and affordability, Brammeier wants the region to address a fundamental disconnect. How, he asks, can clean, affordable water be a concern for folks living along “20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water”?
“Smart regions don’t take the kind of risks we are taking,” Brammeier said. “They don’t intentionally poison their own water supply, or stand aside while invasive biological pollution pushes past the door, or endlessly put off vital investment as pipes crumble into the ground.”