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Editorial: DNR's water ballast rules the right step

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Editorial: DNR's water ballast rules the right step


Posted March 3, 2008 / sheboygan-press.com



It's full speed ahead for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the battle against invasive species in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior — and it's about time someone took the lead.


Congress has shown an unwillingness to implement rules to guard against non-native aquatic life that threatens the health of all five Great Lakes.


Already there are more than 180 foreign invaders in the Great Lakes, including the pesky zebra and quagga mussels. Not only do these non-natives clog water intake pipes, they also filter plankton from the water — the base food in the Great Lakes food chain.


For years now, officials from all states bordering the Great Lakes have pleaded with the federal government to require ocean-going ships to either dump ballast water before entering the Great Lakes or treat the water to kill the non-native species. The shipping industry has fought efforts to regulate ballast water and sued Michigan last year over its ballast-water law.


But the case was thrown out of court, and more recently, efforts to enact ballast rules got a much-needed boost from a California court that ruled states could regulate ballast water under the Clean Water Act.


The DNR will use the Clean Water Act to write its rules and work with Minnesota to ensure that the two states — which both border Lake Superior — have compatible rules.


At the same time, the DNR is moving forward with plans for an on-shore treatment of ballast water to kill the invasives. Ships would have to dump the ballast water into the holding tank rather than releasing it into the lake. Once treated, the water could safely be pumped into the lake.


The DNR hopes to have a pilot project up and running in Milwaukee in time for the start of the 2009 shipping season. Gov. Doyle has said the state would put up the $6 million for treatment facilities in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Superior.


This kind of treatment program will be expensive, but the cost of not doing anything and waiting for Congress to act will likely be even higher.


The best solution to this problem, everyone agrees, would be comprehensive federal rules governing shipping on all of the Great Lakes. Even the shipping industry agrees with this. But that same industry has fought previously proposed rules as too costly or too cumbersome and appears content to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.


It's unfortunate that individual states have to take these steps to protect the lakes, but we're glad that Wisconsin is willing to step up when Congress doesn't.

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