Freshwater Future Visits Washington D.C for Annual Great Lakes Day
Freshwater Future staff recently traveled to Washington D.C for Great Lakes Day—an annual convening at which residents, grassroots groups, and environmental organizations educate Congress about policies and funding to sustain and improve drinking water infrastructure and conservation programs. More than 120 groups traveled to the capital to meet with members of congress from their respective home states and beyond. Freshwater Future had the honor of meeting with key members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), including Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-MS), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC).
We asked members of the CBC to continue their investment in drinking water, storm water, and wastewater infrastructure, to advocate for internet and broadband to be viewed as infrastructure, and to adopt public health standards that prohibit massive water shutoffs that primarily impact communities of color. We also requested a national standard for affordable drinking water rates and continued support for Flint, Michigan. Our visit to the CBC was very well received, and each member reaffirmed their support for clean, safe, and affordable drinking water, as well as water infrastructure upgrades.
Great Lakes Day is more important now than ever. The Trump Administration has proposed massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), clean water programs, and regulatory fixtures put in place to protect America’s sources of drinking water, aquatic habitats, and the recreational economy. Such budget cuts would leave millions of Americans who depend on the Great Lakes as a viable source of water at risk. Here’s what we asked Congress to do:
- Fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative | The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) allocates hundreds of millions of dollars across the region, targeting some of the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Projects funded by the GLRI focus on cleaning up toxic sites, controlling invasive species, promoting shoreline health, and restoring wetland habitats. Fully funding this crucial federal program will make sure we maintain the tremendous progress made by communities across all the Great Lakes states.
- Implement a water affordability plan | Communities across the region continue to struggle for access to safe and affordable clean water. In the city of Detroit alone, more than 40% of the population currently live at or below the federal poverty level. Yet residents have one of the highest water rates in the region, resulting in widespread water shutoffs. Public health threats have arisen as a result, including an uptick in hepatitis A and a variety of sanitation-related illnesses. The City of Flint still struggles with water shutoffs and ongoing high levels of lead since the onset of the water crisis.
- Fully fund clean water programs at the EPA and other federal agencies | Cutting EPA’s budget would devastate its ability to enforce water pollution laws and regulations, help states clean up polluted water bodies, protect groundwater, restore beaches and coastal areas, oversee compliance with drinking water standards, and provide assistance to water systems. Cuts to EPA grant programs would also undermine state agency funding, which gives states the resources to implement federal water safeguards.
- Double funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds | These funds provide grants to communities for the purpose of upgrading and replacing their drinking water infrastructure. As the federal government has decreased its financial investment in water infrastructure over the last three decades, local communities have been taking on most of the financial burden. Low-income communities, especially those predominantly of color, are hit the hardest.
- Support farm bill conservation programs that pay framers to protect soil and water quality | Farmlands are uniquely vulnerable to soil erosion and degradation, and in many cases extra fertilizers and pesticides wash off farm fields and into local waterways. Runoff is the number one cause of toxic algal blooms in both the U.S. and Canada. These blooms can have devastating effects for ecosystems and public health. Pressure to produce a high volume of agricultural products leaves many farmers unable to implement best soil management practices that reduce runoff and preserve topsoil. The farm bill is a crucial piece of legislation that compensates farmers for the ecosystem services they provide through best soil management practices, and the law must be renewed this year.
- Increase efforts to protect the Great Lakes from harmful invasive species | Asian Carp have the potential to inflict severe damage to Great Lakes industries: a $7 billion fishing industry, a $16 billion recreational boating industry, and an $18 billion hunting and wildlife observation industry. Zebra and quagga mussels alone cost the region over $200 million/year to control.