Congressman Brian Higgins, NY-26, a member of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, has introduced legislation to provide grants to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in the Great Lakes basin.
"The resurgence of the inner and outer harbors along Lake Erie illustrates the important relationship between the health of the Great Lakes and our community's economic future," Higgins said. "This legislation will provide the Great Lakes region with much needed resources necessary to preserve the health and vitality of our national treasure, the Great Lakes."
Higgins announced the new bill standing on the shores of Lake Erie with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. He called both "champions of Great Lakes protection and restoration."
"Our water defined this region's history, and how we protect this public trust resource will define our future," said Jill Jedlicka, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper executive director. "Congressman Higgins understands that strategic investment and partnerships dedicated to restoring our region's water resources will result in tremendous economic return and revitalization for the benefit of the entire community. We thank him for his local commitment to water as well as his leadership in Washington for pursuing much-needed legislation."
"Lake Erie faces a greener future, unless we take action. Not the 'green' we associate with Earth Day, but the pea soup green we associate with toxic algal blooms," said Brian Smith, program and communications director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "Citizens Campaign for the Environment commends Congressman Higgins for championing this important legislation that will help to address the nutrients that are plaguing our Great Lakes."
H.R. 600, the Great Lakes Nutrient Removal Assistance Act, would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to identify and provide $500 million in grant funding to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in the Great Lakes basin with nutrient removal technology. Studies have shown that nutrients, like phosphorous and nitrogen, are the cause of harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.
Currently the legislation has seven cosponsors representing districts in the Great Lakes region: Congressman John Conyers (MI-13), Congressman John Dingell (MI-12), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11), Congressman Sandy Levin (MI-9), Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-4), Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13), and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25).
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which formally codifies the U.S. and Canada's agreement to restore and protect the Great Lakes and was most recently updated in September, identifies inadequate wastewater treatment plants as a weak link in protecting the biological integrity of the Great Lakes.
The Buffalo River is also identified in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement as one of 26 "Areas of Concern" in need of remedial action. Higgins recently announced progress on phase two of Buffalo River cleanup efforts with the release of $22 million in federal funding, which will be matched through a partnership agreement between the Honeywell Corp. and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, for a combined $44 million project.
According to the EPA, more than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes basin. The Great Lakes contain 95 percent of America's fresh water and supplies drinking water to more than 30 million people in North America. The Brookings Institute found that Buffalo would see economic gains between $600 million to $1.1 billion if the Great Lakes are restored.