Protecting our Great Lakes

We must take immediate and aggressive steps to protect and renew our Great Lakes, and to manage the impacts of climate change on West Michigan’s communities, businesses, infrastructure, and ecosystems.

Like many others in the 2nd Congressional District, I grew up swimming and camping along Lake Michigan, from Holland to Grand Haven to Ludington.  Even today, my family loves to spend summer afternoons or evenings on nearby beaches. Most of us know that it’s the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world and home to thousands of plant and animal species, and it contains 95% of our country’s surface freshwater supply.

The Great Lakes are a true gift to our communities as well as to our local economy. My passion is to be a steward of this gift and restore it to what it was meant to be: healthy, unpolluted, and productive.  

If I am elected, I will join with other Republican and Democratic Senators and Representatives to fight for continued investment through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which was introduced in 2009 to do the important work of accelerating the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes, including:

  • Improving water quality for safe drinking water supplies, fisheries, and aquatic habitats. 

  • Protecting shorelines and restoring wetlands. 

  • Protecting and restoring native habitats and species. 

  • Helping to prevent and control invasive species, including the Asian carp.

  • Cleaning up toxic sediments on lake bottoms. 

  • Reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms. 

In Michigan alone, 880 projects have been funded by the GLRI, with $762 million spread across a range of projects, significant results – but much more needs to be done, and we need sustained funding over the long haul.

While funding GLRI is critical, it is not enough – we need to do more.

I trust the experts. I believe that global climate change is already causing significant and far-reaching impacts on the Great Lakes, with more to come. The evidence is overwhelming, and I believe that proactively planning for what’s coming is a core responsibility of government.  

The short version: Scientists are reporting that increases in extreme precipitation events, changes in growing seasons, and warming temperatures impact us, our communities, our ecosystems, and the infrastructure of the Great Lakes region—and the lakes themselves. 

  • The Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest 2019 Report, written by 18 leading scientists and experts from Midwest and Canadian universities and research institutions, concluded through a peer-reviewed process that that those of us living around the Great Lakes can expect to see more harmful algae blooms, warmer water temperatures and declining ice cover, more huge rain storms flushing runoff from farm fields and parking lots, and more coastal erosion and beach closures.

  • Additionally, the 1,656 page National Climate Assessment, released by the White House in November 2018, says the Great Lakes Region is in the center of some of the most damaging impacts of climate change. Two University of Michigan researchers authored the Midwest chapter of the report and concluded that the Great Lakes region will most likely not only face adverse human health impacts from increased flooding, increased heat, and lower air and water quality, but that agricultural productivity and forest health will decline. They say the Great Lakes, which are already under stress from pollution, from nutrient and sediment inputs from agriculture, and from invasive species, will face even more damage as lake surface temperatures increase, lake ice cover declines, and summer evaporation rates increase.

  • Finally, the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program (GLISA), which is a collaboration of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), outlines 6 Key Messages for Great Lakes.  Among other findings, the report says climate change will exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes - and our economy.  Our fruit crops are particularly vulnerable to anomalous weather events, which are becoming more frequent, and in the long term, the combined stresses are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.

We need to get to work. We must take concrete and aggressive steps to address these problems now. It won’t be easy, and it will require significant funding and political will. But here in Michigan, our future depends on it, and I believe that, working together, we can find common ground and get it done.