Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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We need national program to access risks to Great Lakes

by Candice Miller on December 16, 2014

http://www.thetimesherald.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/12/13/need-national-program-access-risks-great-lakes/20371975/

Candice Miller(Photo: Handout)

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The August algae bloom in Lake Erie — that contaminated and temporarily shut down the water supply to Toledo and part of southeastern Michigan — didn’t exactly take anyone by surprise.

To those of us surrounded by them, we know the Great Lakes are both magnificent and vulnerable.

The susceptibility of surface waters used by municipal water systems to algae contamination in hot weather has been long known. The production of potentially harmful cyanotoxins during those events also is well known.

What isn’t at all well known is precisely what conditions foster either algae or cyanotoxin eruptions, what can be done to avoid them or even how to detect and measure the toxins most potentially injurious to human health. That’s why legislation I co-sponsored this month will accelerate the development of a national program to assess those risks and create a system to monitor and address the threat of cyanotoxins to public drinking water supplies is so important.

The Safe Drinking Water Act would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate cyanotoxin risks, offer guidance on how to best detect them and provide advice and assistance to states and public water systems on how best to mitigate the threat.

As operators of our water supply systems have told me, the need for better testing, clearer guidelines and proven solutions is immediate. Of course, we also need to do everything we can to limit the flow of nutrients reaching the lakes, which contribute to the growth of algae.

Some of that requires the continuing commitment to the separation of municipal storm and sanitary sewers. Michigan communities such as Port Huron have made tremendous progress on that front — at great cost. Still, the amount of sewage overflows reaching the lakes during heavy rainfall is unacceptable. Agricultural runoff also contributes nutrients to the watershed, which can foster the growth of algae.

I’m pleased to say that Michigan farmers have led the way in implementing voluntary programs to reduce that runoff. They know that doing so is good environmental stewardship.

But they also know it’s good agriculture. Fertilizer that ends up in a stream or lake isn’t growing crops.

To boost those efforts, last year, I introduced legislation that would make states eligible for federal assistance to promote that sort of agricultural conservation. Under my proposal, producers who participate would also receive priority consideration for federally-funded cost sharing on conservation projects.

As the events of last summer showed, the threat to our Great Lakes — and our water supply — from algae blooms and cyanotoxins is real. No single region, agency or unit of government is capable of addressing it alone.

But I believe we all share a commitment to protecting our greatest natural heritage for ourselves and future generations. And together, we will succeed.

Candice

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