Great Lakes advocates not pleased with Bush's spending plan

Great Lakes
A satellite image of the Great Lakes.
Photo provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

(AP) - President Bush's proposed budget would shortchange efforts to clean up the Great Lakes and to keep problems such as sewage overflows and exotic species invasions from getting worse, critics said Wednesday.

Federal spending for Great Lakes water quality programs would be slashed 16 percent from this year's total under the president's fiscal 2009 spending plan released this week, advocacy groups said.

They called on Congress -- and candidates in this year's election -- to devote more money to the lakes, which make up nearly one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water supply.

Zebra mussels
Zebra mussels are just one of many invasive species that have entered the Great Lakes through ballast water dumped by oceangoing ships. They have also been found in the Mississippi River and in inland lakes.
Photo by Simon van Mechelen, University of Amsterdam

"The White House budget fails the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their jobs and their way of life," said Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

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According to the group's analysis, the president requested $297.6 million for Great Lakes programs, down from $353.76 million appropriated for this year.

Messages seeking comment were left with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Bush administration's primary office for Great Lakes policy.

Separately, a coalition representing shippers, ports and other Great Lakes industries complained that Bush would cut by 35 percent the Army Corps of Engineers budget for dredging to keep the lakes' navigation channels open.

The government allocated $140 million for dredging this year. Bush requested $89.3 million for 2009.

"The lakes are already suffering with extremely low water levels," said Patrick J. O'Hern, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force. "Now is the worst imaginable time for any reduction in Great Lakes dredging funds."

Lamprey
The lamprey is one of the species spread in the Great Lakes in ballast water.
Image courtesy Peter Sorenson

Lynn Duerod, spokeswoman for the Army Corps, said the agency would notify Congress if its dredging money runs short.

"We'd like all of our projects to be funded every year," Duerod said. "However, we'll work with whatever we get."

The budget has some bright spots, Skelding said. It includes nearly $6.3 million to continue work on an electric barrier to prevent the Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

The carp escaped from Southern fish farms into the Mississippi River and has migrated northward in recent years. Biologists say if the aggressive, voracious species reaches the Great Lakes, it could devastate the $4.5 billion sport and commercial fishery.

Additionally, Bush proposed a small increase -- from $34.5 million to $35 million -- for the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which cleans up toxic sediments in the region's most heavily polluted harbors.

But programs for preventing sewage contamination and fighting invasive species would absorb deep reductions.

The president would cut the region's share of Clean Water State Revolving Fund money by nearly 20 percent -- from $250 million this year to $201.5 million. The program helps communities upgrade wastewater treatment systems.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which leads the fight to control the invasive sea lamprey, would be cut 21 percent.

Bush recommended no spending for an erosion control program coordinated by the Great Lakes Commission that received $430,000 this year.

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor would take a 9.5 percent cut.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)