AS THE House and Senate debate and vote on their respective budget resolutions this week in Washington, it is critical that they include funding to restore and protect one of America's most important resources, the Great Lakes.
Included in President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal is $475 million in new funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up and safeguard the lakes region. The funding will be used to combat invasive species, remove contaminated sediment, prevent and reverse loss of wildlife habitat, and address toxic pollution.
Protecting and restoring the Great Lakes is not a luxury but a critical necessity. This funding will not only preserve the lakes, it will create jobs, boost local economies, and benefit the long-term economic health of Ohio, the Midwest, and the nation.
More than 40 million Americans rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water. Thousands of farms and businesses and an untold number of jobs depend on the lakes as well, and millions of hunters, fishermen, boaters, beachgoers, bird watchers and other tourists enjoy this precious resource every year.
The Great Lakes region encompasses the largest fresh water system in the world, holding some 90 percent of all the surface fresh water in the United States and more than 20 percent of the world's total. With the global demand for fresh water doubling every 21 years, this resource is only going to grow in importance.
The health of the lakes isn't a Republican or Democratic issue, it is a national issue; it's not a bargaining chip, it's a valuable piece of our collective economic future, and it's not a problem that can be put off, it's a tipping point that, if ignored, could have serious implications.
Senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle and from all parts of the country have a stake in preserving and improving the health of the Great Lakes. Ohio's delegation in particular must be resolute in their commitment to protecting and restoring the lakes.
Sens. George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown and Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Steven LaTourette, Tim Ryan and others have taken the lead. Others, including the 5th Congressional District's Rep. Bob Latta, now must step to the plate.
On this issue, the nation is watching and will judge them by what they do.