“I sit sometimes drinking wine, just looking at the lake!” laughs Dick Durbin. The Illinois senator slips his sunglasses over the bridge of his nose. Behind him, Lake Michigan is a cool-blue glass mirror, broken only by white sails like the outstretched wings of massive birds. Senator Durbin, one of the Great Lake’s most fervent champions, cracks a broad grin as he takes in the picturesque view.
September 20 is International Coastal Cleanup Day, and many organizations have gathered at North Avenue Beach to promote conservancy and expand the public’s environmental conscience. All across Illinois, a record-shattering 2,000 volunteers sift through the sand as part of the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ annual Adopt-a-Beach cleanup. Beach-combers with latex gloves and trash bags fan out, collecting Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles and cigarette butts.
The Alliance isn’t alone in working to save the Lakes, which account for twenty percent of the world’s fresh-water supply. Senator Durbin mingles with the event’s organizers after a press conference in which he announces new legislation he will introduce in Washington next week. His bill will authorize $15 million for a grant program to fund Great Lakes conservation education. “Also, my fellow senator announced a $5 billion package he will be pushing for when he’s elected President of the United States. Obama’s proposal is an effort to track oil subsidies and revenues that will go toward cleaning up current sources of pollution in the Great Lakes.”
The two Illinois senators’ efforts are of vital environmental importance. Lake Michigan is more than just Chicago’s source of recreation and drinking water. It is also a fragile ecological axis, which is currently endangered by invasive species, climate change and toxic dumping.
“When we got into the fight with BP, it was a wake-up call,” Senator Durbin explains. “I knew a lot of things were going on, but I had no idea about the depth of sentiment in this region about this lake. The more people understand what’s at stake here, the easier it’s going to be to create political support. Part of the problems out here are because we’re taking the easy way out in terms of what we dump in this lake, and then look the other way. That’s gotta change.” (Laura Hawbaker)