The Great Lakes offer numerous challenges to the next president. Both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney would endear themselves to voters in the crucial states of Ohio and Michigan by committing now to more funding for Great Lakes restoration, and to a plan to keep out Asian carp by separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds.
The Great Lakes are a global treasure because of their multiple uses and their proximity to the heartland of North America. Forty million people live in the Great Lakes basin, 30 million of them in the United States. In a world that faces acute water shortages as its population expands, the lakes hold 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water.
At a conference of Great Lakes scientists and policy experts in Cleveland this week, delegates are encouraging the major-party nominees to talk more about the lakes during their campaigns. U.S. State Department officials recently completed the first major update in 25 years of the landmark Great Lakes Quality Agreement with Canada; the pact works in tandem with America's Clean Water Act to promote better water quality.
Over the past quarter-century, the lakes -- especially western Lake Erie -- recovered rapidly before regressing. During his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama pledged $5 billion in new money for Great Lakes restoration. His administration began on track to keep that promise, but the commitment has declined with the bad economy in the past two years.
The Obama Administration also has fought efforts to close temporarily Chicago-area locks that connect the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, in an attempt to slow the advance of invasive Asian carp. Ohio, Michigan, and other states sued unsuccessfully for better carp prevention. Mr. Romney has hardly weighed in on any Great Lakes issue.
Western Lake Erie is one of several areas around the Great Lakes basin that are inundated by toxic algae because of excessive farm runoff and inadequate sewage treatment. Asian carp are the most high-profile invader, but many others also threaten the biological web that supports the lakes region's $7 billion fishery.
Climate change, beach bacteria, wetlands restoration, flood control, shipping, near-shore development, oil and gas drilling, pipeline safety, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics also belong on the list of urgent Great Lakes issues. A poll this year showed that three of four Ohioans want more money spent on Great Lakes cleanup, especially along Lake Erie. Nine out of 10 said they are concerned about what will happen to native fish populations if Asian carp colonize Lake Erie.
Such support was consistent among party lines. President Obama and Mr. Romney need to pay attention, and to place a much higher priority on saving the Great Lakes.