Lake Erie cleanup falling short of goal
Approaching CLEVELAND — the end of another summer marked by a substantial algal bloom in Lake Erie’s western basin, environmental and conservation groups released separate reports Tuesday that came to the same conclusion:
Ohio, Michigan and Ontario are falling far short in their efforts to reduce and eliminate the seasonal menace.
“The longer we wait to start putting algae-causing, pollution-reduction measures into practice, the worse the problems will become,” said Kristy Meyer, vice president of policy for the Ohio Environmental Council.
Meyer was responding to a new report released Tuesday, “Rescuing Lake Erie: An Assessment of Progress,” that examines how Ohio, Michigan and Ontario are responding to the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement they signed two years ago.
The agreement committed the states and Canadian province to reduce phosphorus discharges by 40 percent between 2015 and 2025. In 2008, Ohio released 1,400 metric tons of phosphorus into Lake Erie. A 40 percent reduction would be about 860 metric tons of phosphorus, or roughly the same amount as released in 2010. Gov. John Kasich and the other group leaders are scheduled to meet next week at the 2017 Leadership Summit in Detroit.
In a separate response, Gail Hesse, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes water program, posted a critique on the agency’s blog. In the past two years, she said, the states and province have failed to offer workable solutions necessary to reduce phosphorus pollution and shrink the algal blooms.
“It is time for the federal and state agencies to ... commit to milestones with time frames and be accountable for meeting phosphorus loading targets for Lake Erie,” Hesse wrote.
“The draft plans released to date include many useful initiatives, but all fall far short of providing any assurance that the proposed actions add up to meeting the 40 percent reduction target. The plans read like a grocery list without a recipe,” she wrote.
Meyer and environmental representatives from Michigan and Ontario addressed the Lake Erie report via an online teleconference hosted by the report’s authors at the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Freshwater Future.
The report was based on consultations with experts and a review of legislation, regulations and policies in each jurisdiction. The conclusion was that progress toward the 40 percent phosphorus reduction has been “painfully slow... and lacking the comprehensive approach that is needed to effectively address harmful algal blooms.”
The OEC’s Meyer praised farmers in the Maumee River watershed who have obtained certification, and those who are employing practices that reduce phosphorus runoff such as planting cover crops, buffer zones and wetlands. But voluntary compliance isn’t sufficient to reach a significant reduction, she said.
“Every year, the people of Toledo brace themselves, is it going to be toxic or not? Bottled water is flying off the shelves. People are really worried. It’s having a real impact on people’s psyches and their quality of life,” Meyer said.
“We need to say enough is enough, it’s time to get this done. Every year there’s a bloom. We need to make changes in a bigger way.”
The “Rescuing Lake Erie” report defines and measures the most significant policies needed to achieve phosphorus reduction in western Lake Erie. They include reducing phosphorus pollution from agricultural sources, reducing phosphorus pollution from urban sources, and monitoring and reporting of phosphorus loadings and reductions.
The annual harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie threaten drinking water for hundreds of thousands in Toledo and damage the economy.