The Clean Water Blog

2020 Photo of Great Lakes Day attendees in front of the US Capitol

Great Lakes Day in Washington DC: Protecting and Restoring the Lakes to Provide Access to Drinking Water, Recreation, and Democracy

For decades, Clean Water Action has led the fight to protect and restore Lake Superior and the Great Lakes. Why? Because the Great Lakes contain 21% of the Earth’s available fresh surface water. They are the drinking water source for more than 40 million people. Tourism to the Lakes brings in more than 16 billion dollars each year to local economies.  And a less quantifiable reason: they are fun and enjoyable!

But the Great Lakes face serious and urgent threats: permitted pollution from industry, toxic water running off farm fields and over non-porous pavement, invasive species, unchecked development, and more. All of these problems are compounded by climate change and the unjust and disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental harm to vulnerable communities. For more than a century, we treated our lakes as they were our sewers and our industrial waste disposal sites, and we didn’t really want to face the consequences of these past and current choices. If these are truly the Great Lakes, we need to do better for the lakes and the people who live near them.

To help make sure we are addressing these problems and restoring the Great Lakes and communities around them, every year Clean Water Action Minnesota travels to Washington DC for Great Lakes Day to lobby Congress to protect and restore the Great Lakes.  This year we still attended Great Lakes Day, had meetings, and spoke up about protecting the Great Lakes, but safely and virtually.  With our coalition allies the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes coalition and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, we held our first Virtual Great Lakes Week! Our priority was to continue to educate our elected Representatives and Senators and to advocate for funding and policies that will clean up our lakes and make the benefits accessible to everyone in our communities. We were joined by nearly 100 other advocates from around the Great Lakes region who were virtually meeting with their representatives from Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.  

We had 4 main priorities that we covered during our discussions with our Representatives and Senators:

1)    Ensuring safe and affordable drinking water for everyone in the COVID bill

2)    Supporting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and prioritizing communities that have historically and currently bear the brunt of pollution and environmental harm: communities of color and low income populations.

3)    Addressing the water infrastructure deficit in the region and MN and prioritizing the removal of Lead Service Lines (the largest source of lead in drinking water)

4)    Restoring and strengthening clean water protections weakened or eliminated by the Trump administration over the last 4 years.

In Minnesota, we can sometimes take for granted the clean, fresh water we have. – it’s easy to do so in the Land of (over) 10,000 lakes! But we cannot take water access for granted. There are many people in our state who lack access to the Great Lakes and other Minnesota lakes – both as a source of recreation and as a source in their homes.  We need to continue to strive for everyone to have access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water and access to our parks, lakes, and rivers to enjoy their benefits.

For nearly a decade, we have led a group of Minnesotans out to Washington DC to educate lawmakers and advocate for clean water and our Great Lakes. While this year was a little different, Great Lakes Day is still one of the most fun and rewarding parts of my job: working with my fellow Minnesotans to help make our federal government work for us and our most precious resource.

I’m reminded of a quote from late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, ““Politics is not about big money or power games; it's about the improvement of people's lives.” We need more of this and less partisan fighting! Trillions of our tax dollars are spent in Washington D.C. every year, and the only way to make sure it benefits everyone is to be engaged in the decisions.

Last year, one of our team members, Claudie Washington, a longtime NAACP Duluth leader, said “If you are not at the table making the decisions… you are on the menu.”  For too long marginalized communities not only didn’t receive an invitation to the table – they were purposefully excluded. We must ensure those communities on the frontlines of pollution and water equity fights are not only at the table, but at the head of it, if these programs are going to benefit all communities and create true access for all and lead to our goal of clean water for everyone!

Clean Water Action is committed to continuing this work, and the support of members like you makes it possible. Thank you for helping us in our fight to protect clean water in our Great Lakes, all of Minnesota’s waters, and working to ensure all Minnesotans have equal access to our water resources. Together we’ll move towards a better and sustainable future for us all.