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Senator Kirk gives health of Lake Michigan a 'C'

Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk just issued his first report card for Lake Michigan.

Senator Kirk, a Republican, looked at measurements such as beach water quality, mercury and Superfund sites. Kirk, who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, gave the lake a "C."

Kirk said water levels are decreasing, so he wants to pass a bill that would maintain and dredge harbors. He also called for increased voltage at electric barriers to keep out Asian carp, and a ban on sewage dumping in the Great Lakes.

He said he thinks there’s money available for projects like these, even in this era of budget cutting.

“This is the drinking-water source for 30 million Americans and the federal government should do its part,” Kirk said. “It should do its part within a declining level of federal appropriations.”

The local head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Henry Henderson, said Kirk's report is an important way to spur discussion, and he was happy to see Kirk continuing his involvement with the Great Lakes. But Henderson said the report doesn't go far enough because it doesn’t take on climate change as a source of changing lake levels, or do enough to address invasive species. He said he thinks a “C” for invasive species is “extremely” generous.

“His focus for assigning the grade has been exclusively on the Asian carp,” Henderson said. “It's way too narrow in terms of the very wide range of species that are a potential threat, and an exact present reality in terms of changing the health of the Great Lakes.”

He said Congress needs to look into permanent barriers separating the Great Lakes from rivers or canals to help keep out invasive species. One idea that’s often floated is reversing the flow of the Chicago River.

Kirk said that would cost billions and isn’t appropriate in this budget climate. He also expressed concern about sewage and sediment in the river getting into Chicago’s drinking water supply if the river were reversed.

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