It is unfortunately rare when Republicans and Democrats come together over environmental legislation. But when it comes to protecting the world's largest surface freshwater system — our Great Lakes — bipartisan support not only makes sense, but also seems to be mobilizing.


Sponsored by Rep. David JoyceDavid JoyceAgainst mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan Boehner finally calls it as he sees it Greene sounds off on GOP after Hill story MORE (R-Ohio) and co-sponsored by 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015 seeks to restore the lakes from toxic substances, prevent and control invasive species, protect and restore the health of nearshore systems, mitigate non-point source pollution, and protect wildlife and wetland habitats.

Despite support from both parties, H.R. 223, which was assigned to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has received much less attention than several more controversial pieces of legislation being reviewed by that committee, including H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act. And here's the irony — despite all the attention, the fuel that would be carried by Keystone is at best a short–term resource, for which alternatives already exist. In stark contrast, the need for fresh water will never lessen and there are no viable alternatives. In fact, this resource will become even more important over time as our population and agricultural demands increase.

Much of the controversy over energy sources revolves around different estimations of impact, whether it is the number of jobs created or years of power a given resource will provide. Conversely, there is no doubt about the magnitude of the Great Lakes system, which represents 84 percent of North American surface fresh water and 21 percent of the world's supply of surface fresh water.

The long-term goals of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act are simple:

Supporting the work of multiple federal agencies and state and local projects to make water safe for drinking and recreation;

Restoring the function of ecosystems by removing and preventing invasive species and cleaning up of toxins, so populations of fish and other aquatic life are both stable and safe to eat; and

Cleaning up agricultural runoff, reducing the nutrient load that can support deadly algal blooms.

Sometimes in the face of controversy and hot stories that dominate a news cycle, we need reminding of what we agree upon and what will be important for the long haul. There is no alternative to water. Today, tomorrow, or 100 years from now, this resource will still be precious and in need of good stewardship. Joyce and colleagues deserve our credit and support as they attempt to provide that stewardship.

Travis is faculty director for the environment at Cornell University's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and is an associate professor of Reproductive Biology & Wildlife Conservation at Cornell's Baker Institute for Animal Health at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Views expressed in his column are his alone and do not represent those of these institutions.