Friday, September 07, 2012

Canada and U.S. renew pact to protect Great Lakes

Asian carp found near Lake Michigan in 2010
By Jamey Dunn

The United States and Canada have signed a renewed agreement to protect the Great Lakes. The new version of the pact, which was updated today for the first time in 25 years, focuses on prevention and addresses new subjects, such as invasive species.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the goal of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters.” The agreement was first signed in 1972 and updated in 1987. “Joint stewardship of the Great Lakes — a treasured natural resource, a critical source of drinking water, essential to transportation, and the foundation for billions of dollars in trade, agriculture, recreation and other sectors — is a cornerstone of the Canada-United States relationship,” Canada’s Minister of the Environment Peter Kent said in a prepared statement. “The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports our shared responsibility to restore and protect this critical resource and builds on 40 years of binational success.”

The agreement focuses on areas that were not subjects of the previous pact, including invasive species, habitat protection and climate change. The deal sets timelines for several goals, including plans to reduce phosphorus, a chemical that is often associated with runoff from agriculture and lawn maintenance, in Lake Erie to combat algae growth. Under the plan, projections will be created to assess the potential effects of climate change on the Great Lakes. The agreement also calls for the development of a plan to quickly identify and respond to the threat of invasive species.

Fears over a mass invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes have sparked debate and litigation among Illinois and its neighboring states. Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 to close Chicago’s navigational locks in an effort to stop the spread of the species. Those in favor of closing the locks say that the fish could do irreparable damage to lake ecosystems as well as the fishing and tourism industries. Opponents said that closing the locks would put an unnecessary burden on shipping and could cause flooding and sanitation concerns.

A recent search for Asian carp DNA conducted by the state of Wisconsin in Lake Michigan turned up no evidence of the fish. A search of Lake Erie by the Ohio and Michigan natural resources departments and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not turn up any Asian carp either, but carp DNA has been found in the lake before.

“I’m pleased that after 25 years, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is being updated to better reflect our scientific understanding and focus resources on the most pressing threats to this natural treasure,” Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force along with Illinois Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, said in a prepared statement. “With its emphasis on prevention of environmental damage, the agreement reflects a more cost-effective use of resources, as preventing damage is generally less costly than cleaning up ruined ecosystems. I am also pleased the agreement focuses on invasive species which are a continuing threat.”

Kirk echoed Levin’s support of updating the agreement to include new concerns while continuing to focus on threats the lakes have faced for years, such as chemical pollution. “I am fully committed to preventing toxic chemicals from poisoning our food supply and invasive species from damaging our ecosystem.”

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