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World Water Day: Reflection on Lake Erie

Adam Rissien, March 21, 2017

March 22nd marks the day where people across the globe give special recognition to the benefits and value of the world’s rivers and lakes. Water truly is one of earth’s most precious resources and faces increasing threats such as water scarcity and contamination from a variety of pollutants.

Nowhere is this most evident than in western Lake Erie, which is the source of drinking water for millions of people, as well as a place to fish, swim, and boat. Unfortunately, western Lake Erie suffers from severe toxic algal blooms most every summer and the long-term future of the lake is uncertain. It is unacceptable that scientists and government officials now talk about the lake’s ‘bloom season’ and that communities and businesses around Lake Erie have to plan for its threat each summer.

That is why we applaud and thank the city councils of Lorain, Elyria, and Toledo, as well as Lucas and Lorain County Commissions that all passed resolutions this past week calling for better safeguards to curb algae-causing pollution. These Lake Erie communities are sending a strong message to our elected leaders that more action is necessary to curb toxic algae.

Pollution from industrial-scale agriculture is the primary driver of toxic algae in western Lake Erie. The problem occurs when heavy rainfall washes excess fertilizer and manure into streams, rivers and, eventually, Lake Erie. The overload of chemicals (mainly phosphorus) into the lake fuels a bumper crop of algae that covers areas of Lake Erie with thick mats of bright green slime. These massive growths of algae produce toxins more dangerous than even cyanide, which can contaminate sources of drinking water and make beaches unsafe for families to play.

Today, the OEC is releasing a special and entertaining video to illustrate how this occurs.

Algae-causing pollution is preventable. Sewage treatment plants, home septic systems and combined sewer overflows are small contributors of phosphorus pollution. Yet they must follow specific state or federal regulations. In fact many must obtain permits that set specific limits on the amount of pollution allowed into local rivers and lakes. Local health departments keep an inventory and maintenance records of all home septic systems.

Unfortunately, very few safeguards are in place to limit pollution from industrial-scale agriculture. In study after study, scientists show reducing the amount of agricultural pollution flowing into Lake Erie will significantly reduce the threat from toxic algae.

It is time for better safeguards and more effective controls to reduce the amount of agricultural pollution allowed to flow into Lake Erie. We need bold action from our state leaders to restore the lake and ensure safe, clean drinking water for our families.