Friday, April 20, 2018

The Great Lakes go to Washington: Great Lakes Day with Margo Davis

In what I have to imagine is a perennial highlight for the Great Lakes Commission-Sea Grant Fellow, I traveled to Washington, D.C. last month for our Semiannual Meeting and Great Lakes Day on Capitol Hill. I have been to Washington numerous times while living on the East Coast, but never had the opportunity to interact with the lively policy scene. So I was excited and a tad intimidated when, on my first day, I was sent to attend a congressional briefing on a newly-released report on equitable water infrastructure in the Great Lakes. Although I certainly consider myself civically active, I was not used to this type of sanctioned, more formal event, and I certainly wasn't used to having a congressman introduce the panel! Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio provided opening remarks, but I really became awed when Rep. Gwen Moore — who represents my home district in Wisconsin — arrived and addressed the room. Not only was it a great experience to learn about the report directly from those that prepared it, but exposure to the Capitol Hill setting was great for me (and hopefully made me a little less green for Great Lakes Day later in the week).

After some Commission business the next day and a half, Great Lakes Day arrived. We started with a breakfast in one of the Senate buildings, which featured speeches from elected officials from across the Great Lakes states and on both sides of the aisle. The senators and representatives discussed their constituents’ priorities and the steps they are taking to protect those priorities. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Rob Portman, co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, spoke back to back and highlighted bipartisanship as the backbone of the Great Lakes delegation.
Great Lakes stakeholders at the Congressional Breakfast to kick off Great Lakes Day. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, greet each other between speeches. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission
Across the board, the bipartisan significance of the Great Lakes was a common theme and perhaps never more apparent than when closing speakers Reps. Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton, both from Michigan but from opposing parties, spoke together about their understanding of the importance – both to them personally and to their constituents - of protecting the Great Lakes and the frequency with which they work together to do so.

Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) close out the Congressional Breakfast. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission
After the breakfast ended, GLC staff, Commissioners, and a wide range of Great Lakes stakeholders visited elected officials and their staff to further discuss priorities and encourage the Great Lakes delegation to continue working together to protect the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Commission exists to work with the states and provinces to promote their collective interests and address issues of common concern. So, in addition to providing materials, we also reminded staffers that the GLC can be a resource, both in the tools we develop and as a point of contact for key issues.

One valuable tool that I worked on ahead of Great Lakes Day is our Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) interactive map. Each year, the Sea Grant Fellow works with the GLC’s GIS team to update the GLRI database in preparation for public use. We get data from the EPA on every GLRI project, and then scrub the data for consistency and to link updates to their original project. The GIS team takes it from there to import all of the new information on to the map. This tool is important to show how the GLRI funding is being used in each state, and has congressional district overlays so that elected officials can zoom in to see what projects are occurring closest to home. As Great Lakes funding continues to be at risk, we hope this tool is a helpful way of displaying the value of the GLRI.

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