Editor’s note: This opinion piece was written by Racine Mayor John Dickert.

Water is the most basic need in life. With all of the stories we see regarding the shortages across the US we are reminded that we are blessed with an abundance of fresh water. Standing on the beach, overlooking Lake Michigan swells the heart and inspires the mind. We need, therefore, to protect our source and keep it clean while using it responsibly.

Cities, states and provinces in both the US and Canada are rightly touting a “blue economy” that hinges on water technology, a globally competitive research capacity, unmatched outdoor recreation, and the simple sense of well-being that comes with life next to water. We work toward a future where business, workforce and tourists clamor to our shores.

All of this assumes the water is available, the water is clean, and the infrastructure is ready. When we take the Great Lakes for granted, we can pay dearly in setbacks. Last year, a great Great Lakes city – Toledo, Ohio – went without water for more than 2 days. Other communities were affected for weeks by toxic clouds of algae covering one-fourth of Lake Erie. Media reported the Great Lakes water unfit to drink or swim in. Lake Michigan has its own problems. I watched video this week that shows the floor of our Lake covered in zebra mussels and other invasive species which threaten to turn our lake into a dead lake where the aquatic circle of life will come to a full stop. Prospects like that won’t attract talent, create jobs, rent cabins or sell fishing licenses.

There is good news. In a meeting that included eight Great Lakes Governors, including our own, and two Canadian (Governors) Premiers, three of our Great Lake neighbors, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, committed to reducing the pollution that causes algae blooms in western Lake Erie by 40% by the year 2025. This is huge. Forty percent of the phosphorus that enters the western basin of Lake Erie in a year is around 2600 metric tons, or more than 5 million pounds. The serious money that will go toward achieving this goal is a sign of how serious we are about clean water. Another facet of this agreement is that the leaders made the commitment knowing that a hefty chunk of the reduction has to come from agriculture – an industry not typically mandated to show clean water performance.

Instead of flinching, Governors Kasich and Snyder and Premier Wynne stared down the toxic water washing up on Lake Erie’s shores and worked with everyone on their home turf to deliver a promise to the people of the Great Lakes region. This commitment is the product of years of work by many people and organizations. They deserve thanks from all of us. Forty percent in ten years. A healthy lake in ten years. Those elected officials will likely be retired from the scene, so what does a promise made today truly mean? It means as much as we, the people of the Great Lakes region, choose to make it mean. Nothing focuses the mind like goals and deadlines. We need to drill down into that 40% right away and define exactly how, when, and where we will stop phosphate pollution and seriously address the invasive species in our lake. Our region works when the people of the Great Lakes take a goal proposed by our leaders and make it our own. We get the details lined up and make sure that every public official hears: “We expect you to do right by the Great Lakes.”

The water in these Great Lakes is a premium we have been entrusted to protect. To attract the world, we have to put our house in order. Water that is here and water that is clean is the foundation from which every other noble initiative will be built. I refuse to leave the problems and pollution affecting the Great Lakes for my children to solve. It is difficult work, but it’s why we are here. Let’s do the hard work now and protect our most precious resource.

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.