IT'S IRONIC THAT a state bond issue that would have helped clean up and provide access to Lakes Erie and Ontario was defeated at the same time that federal efforts to restore the Great Lakes for recreational use got a big boost this fall.
One of the less publicized accomplishments during the last congressional session was the enactment of 10 bills designed to clean up and preserve the Great Lakes. The lakes have been threatened over the years but are being restored thanks to a belated recognition of their worth as environmental and economic assets.
Among the bills approved to facilitate the recovery was one authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help state and local governments clean up 42 toxic hot spots, including the Niagara and Buffalo rivers, according to Rep. Henry J. Nowak, a driving force behind much of the legislation.
The bill also puts the federal government in line to fund half the cost of a new $4 million breakwall, fishing pier and floating docks south of the Small Boat Harbor and half the cost of a $2.5 million demonstration project to eliminate contamination in the water near Woodlawn Beach.
Another measure sets deadlines for the states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to meet requirements of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada and authorizes $34 million for implementing cleanup programs and funding studies of the effects of lake pollution on human health and wildlife.
Such initiatives cannot come soon enough in light of critical reports earlier this year by both the International Joint Commission and the Congress' General Accounting Office. Both reports led to the conclusion that not nearly enough progress has been made since the 1972 Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada called for cleanup.
That's why it is critical that the federal efforts included funds for cleanup of the lakes this year even as they financed projects to facilitate the public's enjoyment of the waters. Boat launches, beaches and stocked fish may be the prizes that attract public support, but they are of little value without an increased commitment to making the water itself safe.
This year's initiatives are a welcome addition to the estimated $12 billion already spent to clean the lakes over the past two decades. But given the massive cleanup still needed to deal with the effects of decades of chemical dumping -- which has polluted not only the water, but the sediment -- the effort is only a drop in the bucket.
The federal initiative must continue. But the state also must do its part, even if it means through costly measures such as the environmental bond issue defeated last month. State officials now are searching for ways to pay the $12 million obligation to the Great Lakes Protection Fund as well as to finance sewage treatment projects. Money for both efforts was supposed to have come from the bond proceeds.
While the federal government must necessarily play the dominant role in cleaning the lakes, state funds not only help, they prevent Washington from holding back on the grounds that New York State is not doing its part to clean up pollution we cannot afford to ignore.