Steelcase Retirees Hear Update on Restoring the Great Lakes

Ellen Satterlee, Executive Director of The Wege Foundation, introduces Alan Steinman, Ph.D., of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University.
Ellen Satterlee, Executive Director of The Wege Foundation, introduces Alan Steinman, Ph.D., of the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University.

The very active and energetic Steelcase Retirees Club of invited the Wege Foundation to speak in May at one of their regular monthly meetings held at Steelcase headquarters. The retirees wanted to learn more about the status of healing the Great Lakes. The 450 members all know Peter Wege and respect him for his years of leadership at Steelcase. They also admire the fact that Peter helped urge Steelcase into operating a “green” company long before environmental manufacturing became popular.

Dr. Steinman shared both the bad and the good news with the retirees in Steelcase’s Global Auditorium. Ninety percent of Michigan’s wetlands have been filled in. Since these wetlands act like kidneys filtering out pollutants, that bad news has serious implications. It means that non-point sources of pollution—including runoff from roads, fertilizer, and livestock—enters the Great Lakes without the cleansing effect of passing through wetlands.

The good news Steinman shared with the club members is that $20 billion in federal legislation to restore the Great Lakes is on the books and $475 million of that has already been funded.

also – National Wildlife Federation Executive Speaks on Invasive Species

Andy Buchsbaum, Great Lakes Division director for the NWF, followed Dr. Steinman on stage for their combined updates on the threats and the hopes for the Great Lakes. Buchsbaum focused on the destruction of invasive species that is already costing Great Lakes taxpayers as much as $8 billion dollars a year.

The Steelcase retirees heard that invasive species have now destroyed 94% of the diporeia, the major food source at the bottom of the Great Lakes, that supports native aquatic life. That only took ten years, from 1995 to 2005. The speed of such drastic destruction means the future of Great Lakes’ fishing is in serious jeopardy.

Buchsbaum pointed out that while keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan in Chicago has made headlines, the other half of needing a barrier to the Mississippi River is just as critical, but less publicized. Without separating the two bodies of water, quagga mussels – bigger and meaner than their zebra cousins – are now doing their environmental damage across the United States as they move out of the Great Lakes into our country’s waterways.

Buchsbaum, like Steinman, offered some good news. By acting now to end pollution, restore habitats, and stop the inflow of invasive species, the Great Lakes immune system can heal. The NWF officer praised Peter Wege and The Wege Foundation for launching the Great Lakes Coalition that is behind the $20 billion restoration bill.

And the Steelcase retirees were proud to learn that this coalition of over 110 environmental organization was born right there at Steelcase’s headquarters in 2004.

Above Picture – Steelcase Retirees Club vice-president Bob Burr and Wege Foundation Director Ellen Satterlee hold the board for NWF official Andy Buchsbaum. Buchsbaum’s chart demonstrates the critical loss of diporeia at the bottom of Lake Michigan from voracious invasive species. Since diporeia is the beginning link of the Great Lakes’ native fish-food chain, the destruction of this food source threatens the entire Great Lakes fishing industry.