Kristy Meyer, March 4, 2014
Columbus, Ohio – Citizens from Ohio are traveling to Washington, D.C., March 5-6 to urge the nation’s leaders to maintain federal support for efforts to restore and protect Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. The visit is part of Great Lakes Days, an annual affair sponsored by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition in which more than 100 citizens visit Capital Hill offices to underscore the importance of the Lakes to Ohio and the region.
“Lake Erie is a foundation of health, economic vitality, and recreation for millions of Ohioans,” said Kristy Meyer, Managing Director of Agricultural, Health & Clean Water Programs at the Ohio Environmental Council and Co-Chair of Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition. “We look forward to working with Congress and Obama Administration to make sure that the nation maintains its commitment to the Great Lakes.”
Unique among the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is the shallowest, warmest and most biologically productive. The Lake supports one of the largest freshwater commercial fisheries in the world and the largest sport fishery in the Great Lakes, producing more fish for human consumption than the other four Great Lakes combined. Each year more than seven million people flock to Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie to wildlife watch, fish, hunt, recreate and create family memories. As a result, more than $11.5 billion in travel and tourism revenue is generated each year and $1.5 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, supporting more than 117,000 direct jobs.
The DC visit coincides with the release of President Obama’s budget on Tuesday, March 4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will address the advocates in a keynote address on Wednesday, March 5, at 2:15 PM Eastern.
Reporters can listen to Administrator McCarthy’s remarks live by calling 1-800-791-2345 and entering Code 29780.
“This year’s visit comes at an important time,” said Meyer. “The president’s budget is a barometer of the administration’s interest in Great Lakes programs. The people of Ohio have a huge interest in effective programs that impact their health, jobs, and way of life.”
President Obama and the U.S. Congress have invested more than $1.6 billion into the program over the last five years, which has supported 2,098 projects in the eight-state region, according to the EPA. The initiative has funded 189 projects in Ohio, such as the Blausey Tract wetland restoration project. This wetland restoration project transformed 171 acres of farmland along Lake Erie into wetland habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife in the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The added benefit of the Blausey Tract wetland restoration project is the filtering of nutrients from farm field runoff from adjacent fields, reducing the amount of nutrient pollution flowing into Lake Erie.
“Investing in Great Lakes restoration is both penny and pound wise,” said Meyer. “Restoration efforts are removing contaminated sediments, stemming the tide of nutrient pollution flowing into our waterways, and restoring critical habitat for wildlife in communities across the region. We cannot afford to cut funding now. The projects will only become harder and more expensive the longer we wait.”
In 2011, Lake Erie experienced a record harmful algal bloom (HAB) that stretched from Monroe, Michigan past the shores of Cleveland, Ohio. The toxins within the bloom were 1,000 times higher than what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for recreational contact. 2012 did not produce a large HAB due to the drought the region experienced, further confirming that weather plays a large part in how large a bloom grows. In 2013, a whole township, Carroll Township, was unable to drink or bathe in the water coming from the local plant due to toxins 3.5 times higher than what the WHO recommends for safe drinking water.
“The Great Lakes are at a crossroad in time where it’s protection is paramount. The investment of millions now will save billions in the future,” said Captain Paul Pacholski, President, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association.
Advocates from Ohio will join citizens from across the eight-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. This year, the advocates are asking public officials to:
“Restoring and protecting Lake Erie is an investment in our future. Our nation cannot afford to stop protecting this resource that millions depend on for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” said Rich Cochran, President and CEO, Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “We look forward to speaking and working with our public officials so that we can keep momentum going to restore the Great Lakes and protect our public health, jobs, and quality of life.”