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New York Deserves Its Share of Great Lakes Funds

Melding environmental protection and restoration with economic development

Nearly 100 years ago, Canada and the United States chose peace over conflict by adopting a model of international cooperation. The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 provided a mechanism for resolving disputes concerning the waters that separate our two nations. Our visionary predecessors agreed that mutual responsibilities outweighed competing claims and guarded privileges.

Their remarkable foresight helped protect the route that carries nearly 20 percent of the planet's surface freshwater.

Our nations took another step in 1972, when they created a Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that set mutual water quality standards and established institutions for environmental research and protection.

Now it's time for the next step: melding environmental protection and restoration with economic development.

The Lower Great Lakes includes booming cities, gorgeous landscapes, productive farms, abundant fish and wildlife, and rich culture. This region was built upon its water resources. We have learned to resolve conflicts over access to the continent's interior, control over hydropower, fisheries management, and water pollution.

What can we accomplish with further cooperation?

Consider: Water-borne transportation can conserve fossil fuel, reduce truck traffic and stimulate cross-border tourism. Toronto cools downtown buildings with the cold water of Ontario's depths, and Syracuse is looking into doing the same thing. When the lakes are cleaner, recreational fishing will flourish and sustainable commercial fishing might bring freshwater delicacies to downtown restaurants. The wind that blows over the lakes' vast surfaces suggests that coastal windmills could help reduce our dependence on fossil fuel. The possibilities are many.

Bills have been introducedinto the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to authorize billions of dollars over several years to implement a Great Lakes restoration plan. The plan would include cleaning toxic hot spots, controlling the entry of invasive species, reducing pollution from urban and agricultural run-off, restoring and protecting wetlands and critical habitat, and supporting scientific research and the infrastructure that makes it possible.

It is vital for residents of the region to take a leadership role in all Great Lakes restoration activities, and to ask that U.S. federal spending in the Great Lakes be done equitably.

New York is in a key position in the larger Great Lakes picture. As the most downstream of all the Great Lakes states, New York is the entrypoint for ships on the Great Lakes navigation system. As a result, lakes Erie and Ontario, and the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers receive the cumulative impact of water quality degradation from the upper lakes and the harmful invasive species hitchhiking on the world's shipping traffic.

Yet New York receives much less than its equitable share of federal resources. An analysis by the Congressional Research Service and the Great Lakes Research Consortium highlights some interesting facts:

12 percent of the U.S. Great Lakes shoreline is in New York.

New York represents 14 percent of the U.S. portion of the drainage basin.

New York represents 18 percent of the U.S. Great Lakes population.

New York pays 20 percent of the total federal taxes paid by Great Lakes states.

However, New York receives only around 5 percent of total U.S. federal funding for Great Lakes research, cleanup and protection.

The Lower Great Lakes region consists of the great urban centers of Ontario and Upstate New York, and more than a thousand miles of small towns, natural shorelines, and recreational areas. Our economies and cultures are interdependent. The future will place a premium on high environmental quality and our region can establish a model of careful water management and large-scale ecosystem restoration based on scientific knowledge and equitable sharing of resources.

Cornelius B. Murphy Jr. is president of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. Roger J. Marsham is consul general for the Canadian Consulate General, and Jack Manno is executive director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium.

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