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Alliance's "Lady of the Lake" Looks Back on 40 Years

In 1970 Lee Botts founded the Lake Michigan Federation -- the Alliance’s predecessor -- in response to growing public concern about Great Lakes pollution.

Botts believed a single organization should represent the lake’s interests, and that the Federation’s mission was to provide information and energize other citizens’ groups in the four states bordering Lake Michigan.

During her tenure, the Federation pushed to ban phosphates in detergents; pressed for passage of the federal Clean Water Act; and led regional efforts calling attention to the health hazards of polychlorinated biphenyls that resulted in a ban on PCBs.

Dubbed the “Lady of the Lake,” Botts is a recipient of the Great Lakes Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award and remains active on Great Lakes issues, co-authoring a scholarly book on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 2005 and serving as an emeritus member of the Alliance’s board of directors.

Below Botts reflects on the Alliance 40 years later:

What is your greatest satisfaction about the Alliance?

Botts: The organization’s survival and growth as the lead not-for-profit advocate for the Great Lakes in the United States is beyond what I could have comprehended in proposing its organization 40 years ago.

Talk about your greatest disappointment.

Botts: The failure to persuade the board of directors that the Lake Michigan Federation should become binational, recognizing that Lake Michigan is part of a single connected system that requires watershed-wide action, including a binational approach in partnership with Canada. 

Today’s lack of unified citizen action with Canadians limits the influence of citizens and concern of governments for the Great Lakes today.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Great Lakes today?

Botts: The earlier mobilization to improve water quality problems relating to toxic chemicals and excessive algae growth in the Great Lakes were the first major environmental successes across an international border and occurred through interactions between government agencies, scientists and citizens in processes fostered by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and its parent Boundary Waters Treaty with Canada.

My hope is for the Boundary Waters Treaty and Great Lakes Agreement to be used to mobilize a binational response to climate change. Citizen action is needed now to prod a response -- not just from governments, but from all society -- to climate change.

Posted 3-2-10


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