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Higgins says plant upgrades needed to clean Great Lakes

Chris Caya/WBFO News

April 22 marked Earth Day and on Buffalo's waterfront, Rep. Brian Higgins introduced legislation to help clean up the Great Lakes through upgrades to wastewater treatment plants.

While progress has been made in cleaning up the Great Lakes since the first Earth Day 43 years ago, Higgins says a "pressing challenge" now is nutrient pollution. He says excessive phosphorus and nitrogen from wastewater treatment plants are producing toxic algal blooms that cause dead zones in the Great Lakes and other waterways.

"It happens when there's a buildup of algae. When algae dies, it falls to the bottom and sucks out all the oxygen. Much like human life, aquatic life depends on oxygen to survive, as well. The consequence of that is the creation of these dead zones," Higgins explained.

Higgins's bill would fund upgrades for wastewater treatment plants so they can remove nutrients that cause the harmful blooms.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka says the health of our water directly affects the community's health and the local economy.

"In New York State alone, there is a $2 billion sport fishery that supports 12,000 jobs. In addition, recreational boaters provide $600 million of economic impact, and that's just in New York State. So, as our water defined our history, it's going to define our future. So we need to look at proactive legislation, like this, that really starts to address our problems," Jedlicka says.

The Great Lakes provide drinking water for more than 30 million people. Last summer, large portions of Lake Erie near Ohio were affected by toxic algal blooms and dead zones.

Higgins says his legislation has seven cosponsors from districts in the Great Lakes region.