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      Great Lakes protection gets new wave of support

      New legislation could help boost funding programs to protect the Great Lakes.

      A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate could help boost funding programs to protect the Great Lakes.

      Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois introduced the bill Wednesday. They are co-chairmen of the Senate's Great Lakes Task Force .

      The Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act would address invasive species, speed cleanup of contaminated sediments, protect Great Lakes habitat and improve water quality for the more than 40 million people who get their drinking water from the Great Lakes.

      "The Great Lakes are essential to the health, safety and economic prospects of millions of people in Michigan and the entire region," Sen. Levin said. "But toxic contamination, invasive species such as Asian carp, fouled coastlines and compromised habitats present an enormous challenge that requires sustained, coordinated effective action - action our legislation is designed to spur."

      "Protecting the Great Lakes means preventing the spread of invasive species, the dumping of harmful pollutants, and ensuring they remain a clean source of drinking water for 30 million Americans," said Sen. Kirk. "The Great Lakes economy supports over 1.5 million jobs, and I am proud to join Senator Levin in introducing this bill to improve the quality of the Great Lakes for future generations."

      Levin and Kirk introduced similar legislation in 2012.

      The Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act would formally authorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-agency effort President Obama initiated in 2009. The focus would be on the most pressing challenges to the lakes, including invasive species, toxic contamination and run-off pollution.

      The GLEEPA would also reauthorize the Great Lakes Legacy Act program, which supports removal of contaminated sediments at more than 30 sites.

      In addition, it would also establish an interagency task force to ensure efficient coordination of federal programs, efficient use of taxpayer dollars and close coordination among local, state and federal governments in the United States and Canada.

      An interactive map developed by the Great Lakes Commission , showcases more than 950 site-specific restoration projects funded during the first three years of the GLRI.