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Duluth, Minn. — The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) endorsed a joint action plan to address the growing water infrastructure crisis in the Great Lakes region. The plan outlines actions to address a backlog in needed upgrades and repairs to water-related infrastructure in the eight Great Lakes states and two provinces over the next 20 years — everything from wastewater treatment plants to stormwater pipes and drinking-water filtration systems. This backlog is conservatively estimated to cost $271 billion, and many experts believe that figure is a significant underestimate. The GLC plan also calls for a better understanding the state of regional water infrastructure and the true needs to achieve a 21st century system.

Recent drinking water crises in Toledo, Ohio, and Flint, Mich., have shined a light on the risks of aging and underfunded water infrastructure across the country. The majority of U.S. water systems are between 50 and 150 years old, and costs to maintain and update them are projected to rise steeply if action is deferred. Additionally, billions of gallons of sewage and untreated stormwater are currently released into the Great Lakes each year from outdated and aging infrastructure.

“Failure to maintain our water infrastructure means flooding, lead in drinking water lines, sewage overflows, business losses and sick communities,” said John Linc Stine, newly elected chair of the GLC and commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “This action plan highlights promising solutions and proposes new approaches and partnerships that will begin to address these regional water infrastructure challenges.”

The GLC also passed a resolution urging government agencies and research institutions to assess whether existing plans, programs and policies are adequate to protect the Great Lakes basin and its residents from the effects of contaminants of emerging concern, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.

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