Milwaukee Hosts a Week of Great Lakes Discussion

Sep 9, 2013

Downtown Milwaukee will brim over this week with people concerned about the health of the Great Lakes.

Activity begins today Monday when the Great Lakes Commission holds its annual meeting. If you read the nametags, you won’t just find a collection of government representatives or scientists.

Ken Johnson says the overlapping schedule increases the chance that industry leaders will rub shoulders with innovators, and the list goes on. He chairs the Great Lakes Commission. Johnson's day job is overseeing water resource programs for the Wisconsin DNR.

He says “front and center” on the Commission’s list are concerns about the water ships unload when arriving in port.

“There are something like 200 invasive species in the Great Lakes and most of those invasive species have come to the Great Lakes through introduction from ballast water. So we’re very interested in controlling ballast water,” Johnson says.

A coalition of more than 120 diverse organizations seems to have the LONGEST name on the schedule – the “Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition.”

Its laser beam focus will be on continuing to fund the Great Lakes clean up. Director Todd Ambs says federal dollars remain critical.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is really working – cleaning up toxic hot spots, addressing challenges like beach closures. But it is a down payment on a much bigger set of needs in the Great Lakes basin; ensuring that 30 million people who rely on the great Lakes for safe drinking water indeed have that safe drinking water,” Ambs says.

Congress is deciding whether to slash funding for the program.

Among the politicians who will take the podium this morning are Mayors Tom Barrett and John Dickert of Racine, as well as Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin. They’re expected to join the chorus of those calling for Great Lakes protections.