By U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

As Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, one of my most important jobs in Congress is to protect our Great Lakes, the crown jewel of the Midwest, to ensure our nation’s most precious natural resource is healthy and pristine for generations to come. Today, more than 30 million Americans rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, recreation, jobs, and commerce. Our lakes are home to more than 3,500 species of plants and animals. Unfortunately, an estimated 24 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water, containing industrial wastewater and harmful pathogens, such as E. coli, are dumped into the Great Lakes each year resulting in beach closures and environmental damage throughout the ecosystem. In Illinois, the residents and tourists who enjoy water recreation on Lake Michigan deserve better.

That is why I authored a law enacted last December to ensure the public is informed immediately and every time untreated sewage is dumped into our water, putting the public health of our citizens at risk. I worked hard to include these notice requirements in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, P.L. 114-113, where I also secured $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to address toxic hot spots, run-off pollution, and invasive species like Asian Carp. Now, I am working to ensure my sewage notice requirements are as strong as possible to protect the largest freshwater source of drinking water in the world and build the support necessary to ban the practice of dumping untreated sewage altogether.

In September, I testified at an EPA hearing to ensure the Kirk law results in provisions that will enhance transparency and public awareness surrounding sewage overflow events and give individuals, businesses, and local municipal planners the tools they need to protect public health and ensure that beach closures and advisories reflect the most accurate and up-to-date information. While improving public awareness, we must ensure resources are available to address the issue at the local level. Currently, treatment works within our communities are pouring untreated sewage into the Great Lakes because our nation’s water infrastructure is outdated, deteriorating, and in need of reinvestment. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I worked to secure more than $2.3 billion to address water infrastructure needs, $350 million above the Administration’s request, in the Interior Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017, which passed the full Committee on Appropriations in June, and will fight to ensure it is included in conferenced bill at the end of the year.

Protecting the source of drinking water for millions of Americans and the economic vitality of our region from the impacts of sewage pollution, requires local, state, and federal participation and the first step is public education and support. All Americans in Illinois and throughout the Great Lakes basin should be informed each and every time untreated sewage pours into our water. I am committed to improving water quality, wastewater infrastructure, and ensuring our existing federal policies effectively prevent the negative impacts of sewage pollution on the Great Lakes ecosystem. Together we can protect Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes for future generations to enjoy.