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Great Lakes coalition descends on D.C.

More than 100 Great Lakes advocates are scheduled to be in Washington on Wednesday to lobby Congress for increased federal spending and protection for the nation's largest source of freshwater.

The group, including contingents from Minnesota, Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes states, are trying to push back against plans by President Donald Trump to slash funding for the region.

The annual Great Lakes Day effort on Capitol Hill is seeking the full, $300 million funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which Trump has cut to $30 million in his proposed 2019 budget. The group also wants funding restored for the Sea Grant program, which Trump is proposing to eliminate.

Organizations lobbying on Capitol Hill this week include the Great Lakes Commission, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and a group of mayors called the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Their wish list also includes fully funding regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, more federal money for battling invasive species and investing in water treatment plants.

"These joint priorities show how essential the Great Lakes are to both our region's unique ecosystem and $5 trillion economy," John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and current chairman of the Great Lakes Commission, said in a statement.

Todd Ambs, campaign director for the 150-member Healing Our Waters coalition, said the group is "asking Congress to not let up now: Federal Great Lakes restoration investments have been producing results for our environment and economy — but serious threats remain. Until drinking water restrictions, fish consumption advisories, beach closures and toxic hot spots are a thing of the past, our work is not done."

On Tuesday, the group U.S. Water Alliance identified a backlog of $175 billion in water infrastructure needs across the eight Great Lakes states — for water treatment plants, sewage treatment, water pipes and water pumping — including $9 billion in Minnesota and $12 billion in Wisconsin. The group said the federal government should be increasing, not decreasing its investment to prevent problems such as the toxic lead in the water supply for Flint, Mich., and algae blooms that have tainted water drawn by communities near Lake Erie.

The group said jobs that directly involve Great Lakes water generate $450 billion for the U.S. economy annually and account for about 25 percent of the jobs in the Great Lakes region, including agriculture, manufacturing and recreation.