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Watchdogs: NY Awash in Water Problems

September 2, 2008

New York, NY — One of the state's primary sources of drinking water, the Great Lakes Water Basin, is reportedly under siege on three fronts: water being taken, toxic contamination, and invasive species. The threats are listed by a coalition of some 100 groups calling on Congress to act on three measures to protect the Basin when federal lawmakers return to work in less than a week.

The Basin is the primary water supply for millions, and the backup supply for even more New Yorkers. The coalition's first concern is water diversion — other states and Canadian provinces taking water from the lakes for their own use. Next, invasive species are multiplying; and finally, according to Sarah Eckel, program coordinator with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, there are 28 areas of toxic contamination. They include five in New York that still need to be cleaned up - and that could be accomplished with the reauthorization of the "Great Lakes Legacy Act."

"It's toxic contamination, so it's hurting fish as well as people; we think a better description of them is toxic hot spots."

When it comes to invasive species, Eckel says, plants, animals and other organisms that don't belong in the Great Lakes are attacking local fish and even endangering boaters.

The debates over the Act and two other pieces of Great Lakes legislation have focused on whether they go far enough in protecting the water supply. Eckel says the Healing Our Waters Coalition, which includes her advocacy group, is calling on Congress to complete work on all three of the bills.

"We understand that there's a lot of priorities, a lot of things that need to be accomplished, but the Great Lakes are at an ecological tipping point. We have manageable solutions to the issues facing them and we need to address them now, before the problems become more costly."

Eckel says invasive species also are taking a financial toll on the region's multi-billion dollar fishing industry. Congress is considering having the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency keep watch on ballast water that gets dumped from oceangoing vessels, which is the main way these creatures make their way into New York waterways.

Michael Clifford/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY