Mayors and leaders from the Great Lakes states and Canada want candidates in the 2008 elections to make the waterways a priority.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Board of Directors will send questionnaires to the presidential candidates to get their thoughts on the waterways after the primaries, Racine Mayor Gary Becker said Friday as the group met in his city.
It also will work with candidates on both sides to help them understand what's at stake.
"The Great Lakes are not just treasures for these states bounded by the Great Lakes. They're everyone's treasure."
"We'll be challenging the U.S. presidential candidates, whoever they are, from each party, to take strong positions on the Great Lakes," Becker said.
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Herb Bergson, the mayor of Duluth, said the region accounts for 25 percent of the votes needed to elect a president.
"These are important issues, and the Great Lakes are not just treasures for these states bounded by the Great Lakes. They're everyone's treasure," said Bergson. "And unless people wake up and start realizing that, we're going to lose them."
The effort is similar to one being done by a group of governors in states that surround the Great Lakes.
In November, governors of the eight Great Lakes states called on the 2008 presidential candidates to make protecting the lakes a priority. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said that's key to winning the battleground states.
On Friday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said issues confronting the Great Lakes are as important as saving the Florida Everglades.
Cities around the lakes need long-term money for things like wastewater infrastructure, he said. They also need to combat the problem of invasive species.
Daley said the group wants clear answers from the presidential candidates regarding their positions. It also will reach out to candidates for Congress and the Senate, he said.
"We need to push every candidate for office to support us on these issues," he said.
David Miller, the mayor of Toronto, Ontario, said issues facing the Great Lakes affect both countries, and will require action from both the U.S. and Canadian governments. Miller said the two countries should renegotiate an international Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
"It's 20 years out of date. It doesn't address many of the threats facing the Great Lakes today, like invasive species; like the pretty serious drop of water levels in Lake Huron. And it's time for both governments to take the issues confronting the Great Lakes much more seriously."
The mayors also said they want to protect the water in the region. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has been one of the few presidential candidates to raise the issue. While campaigning in water-parched Nevada, the Democrat called for a national water policy.
"Wisconsin is awash in water," he said.
Many took that as a sign that Richardson would try to divert water from the lakes.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)