Lake Erie Clean Up Progress Lags as Region Prepares for Major Summer Algal Bloom

Lake Erie Clean Up Progress Lags as Region Prepares for Major Summer Algal Bloom

Groups mark third anniversary of Toledo drinking water crisis by reporting on priority actions, setting bar for annual progress by jurisdictions

Harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie, August 10, 2015. Credit: NOAA

On the third anniversary of the Toledo water crisis and on the cusp of yet another summer of severe harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie, environmental and conservation groups are calling on Ohio, Michigan and Ontario to speed up and scale up progress on efforts to reduce the pollution flowing into western Lake Erie. Groups identified three immediate steps, and assessed progress on them across the three jurisdictions, to move the Lake Erie region toward a future where clean water flowing off of farm fields and in the lake becomes the norm.

Two years ago, the Great Lakes region applauded when the Governors of Ohio and Michigan joined with the Premier of Ontario to commit to reducing the amount of runoff pollution, specifically phosphorus, flowing into western Lake Erie by 40 percent. Ohio, Michigan and Ontario are on the hook to create clear plans that allocate pollution reduction goals to all the sources that need to reduce – from chemical fertilizer, manure, wastewater and more.

In an initial assessment released today, environmental and conservation groups identified three practices for Ohio, Michigan and Ontario to implement in the coming 12-24 months to kickstart progress across the region toward meeting the 40% pollution reduction goal. The groups call on the jurisdictions to:

  • Completely ban manure and fertilizer spreading on frozen or saturated ground,
  • Require comprehensive nutrient reduction plans by all farms in the Lake Erie basin that result in clean, not polluted, water coming off of farm fields, and
  • Improve water quality monitoring of the waterways flowing into Lake Erie.

Progress by the jurisdictions on these practices has been assessed as mixed, but mostly lacking in significant steps forward. Additionally, the groups pledged to serve as watchdogs, tracking and reporting regularly on progress on these and other actions across the region.

This unfortunate anniversary is an annual reminder to the region’s leaders, and all the people of the Great Lakes, that delivering on a commitment means showing measurable progress every year until Lake Erie is once again safe for everyone,” said Molly M. Flanagan, Vice President of Policy for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Sadly, the efforts so far have been unambitious, vague, and lacking enforcement requirements.”

When the Governors of Ohio and Michigan joined the Premier of Ontario to formally commit to reducing the runoff pollution that flows into western Lake Erie, they knew, as did the people around the region, that the goal was ambitious but unequivocally needed,” said Tony Maas, Manager of Strategy at Freshwater Future. “We urge the region’s leaders to fulfill their promises of strong action to Lake Erie communities.”

The leaders of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario are set to report on Lake Erie clean up efforts in October at the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers’ annual meeting. Prior to that meeting, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Freshwater Future will release a comprehensive analysis of the practices necessary to reduce pollution flowing into Lake Erie and an assessment of progress by the jurisdictions toward implementing them.

Year after year, residents of Great Lakes states are facing the reality that their drinking water may be contaminated and their beaches may be closed by these toxic algae blooms,” said Charlotte Jameson, Michigan League of Conservation Voters’ Government Affairs Director. “It is time for Michigan’s leaders to take this issue seriously and commit to truly effective interventions that will stop runoff pollution from contaminating our drinking water supplies and our world class beaches.

Ohio has taken important steps in reducing phosphorus pollution flowing into Lake Erie, but we need to do more to fulfill the goal of 40 percent reduction of phosphorus by 2025,” said Kristy Meyer, Vice President of Policy for the Ohio Environmental Council. “Ohio’s General Assembly and administration must enact meaningful common sense regulations to address excess manure and fertilizer issues across the state. According to this year’s NOAA forecast, the people who depend on Lake Erie for drinking water, swimming, boating, and fishing cannot afford to wait any longer.”

The Alliance for the Great Lakes, Freshwater Future, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and Ohio Environmental Council will host a webinar at 12 p.m. Central / 1 p.m. Eastern time today to provide supporters an overview of the Lake Erie harmful algal bloom problem and report on their assessment of progress toward meeting the regional goals for western Lake Erie.

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