Ballast water threatens Great Lakes 

click to enlarge Invading species are picked up in one port by freighters, cruise and cargo ships and then the ballast water is dumped into another port. - USBR.GOV
  • Invading species are picked up in one port by freighters, cruise and cargo ships and then the ballast water is dumped into another port.
By Veronica Carter

The Great Lakes aren't normally a huge part of the nation's military footprint but there's a lot at stake for them in the defense spending bill under discussion in Congress.

Last week the House voted for the National Defense Authorization Act, and one of the provisions in it relaxes rules that regulate ballast water from tankers, cruise and cargo ships.

Josh Mogerman, national media director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that water is living pollution that is devastating the lakes with invasive species.

"We have more invasive mussels in the Great Lakes now than there are fish in all the seas of the world so this is a huge problem," says Mogerman. "And the concern now is that this bill opens the door to new invasive species coming in and making something that's already a mess much, much worse."

The cruise and shipping industries have said the increased regulation on ballast water is unnecessary.

The White House is supporting some of the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, but strongly objects to other parts of it, including the weakening of laws regarding the dumping of ballast water, saying it undermines the Endangered Species Act.

The Senate is expected to vote on it this week.

Mogerman says zebra and quagga mussels now coat the bottom of portions of Lake Michigan and have filtered the waters enough to allow unprecedented algae growth.

"The bottom of the lake used to be a rocky, barren sort of a place," says Mogerman. "And now it is entirely covered with quagga mussels and algae that are the result of changes to the very ecosystem that have fundamentally changed what the lakes are and how they operate."

Mogerman says the economies of cities in the region rely on the lakes for water, jobs, tourism and quality of life and have a lot at stake in this discussion.

He's urging everyone to contact their local representatives this week.


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