Agency says US, Canada fall short on pro­tect­ing Great Lakes

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Nation+World - By John Flesher

TRAVERSECITY, MICH. » De­spite re­cent im­prove­ments, the U.S. and Canada have a long way to go to­ward rid­ding the Great Lakes of pol­lu­tion that en­dan­gers hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment, an ad­vi­sory agency said Tues­day.

In­ad­e­quately treated sewage, in­dus­trial chem­i­cals and farm run off are still flow­ing into the five lakes that pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter for about 40 mil­lion peo­ple, the In­ter­na­tional Joint Com­mis­sion said in its first checkup re­port since both na­tions last up­dated the Great Lakes Wa­ter Qual­ity Agree­ment in 2012.

The re­port calls for im­prov­ing drink­ing wa­ter and sewage treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, and strength­en­ing clean-wa­ter reg­u­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly lim­its on phos­pho­rus runoff that is largely re­spon­si­ble for ex­plo­sive growth of harm­ful al­gae in Lake Erie. Agen­cies also should work faster to iden­tify newer types of con­tam­i­na­tion, such as fire re­tar­dant chem­i­cals, and de­velop strate­gies for lim­it­ing them, the re­port says.

“While sig­nif­i­cant progress has been made to re­store and pro­tect the lakes, the gov­ern­ments of Canada and the United States and Great Lakes civil so­ci­ety as a whole are liv­ing with the costly con­se­quences of past fail­ures to an­tic­i­pate and pre­vent en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems,” the re­port says. “By now, it should be clear that preven­tion makes en­vi­ron­men­tal, eco­nomic and com­mon sense.”

The two coun­tries ne­go­ti­ated the first ver­sion of the wa­ter qual­ity agree­ment in 1972 fol­low­ing a cen­tury of abuse that left por­tions of the lakes in de­plorable con­di­tion. It fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on toxic pol­lu­tion, in­va­sive species and nu­tri­ent runoff but has been re­vised sev­eral times to in­clude other threats, in­clud­ing cli­mate change.

In the 45 years since the ini­tial pact was signed, a num­ber of highly con­tam­i­nated “hot spots” in har­bors and trib­u­tary rivers have been cleaned up and steps have been taken to re­duce chem­i­cal and phos­pho­rus dis­charges from in­dus­try and city waste­water treat­ment plants.

Yet too lit­tle has been done to make the lakes safe for drink­ing, swim­ming and fish­ing — the uses that most di­rectly af­fect hu­man health, the re­port says. Even as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and many state and lo- cal gov­ern­ments seek to cut spend­ing, the re­port rec­om­mends big in­creases to im­prove wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture. It notes that a num­ber of cities have dealt with un­safe drink­ing wa­ter in­ci­dents and many na­tive tribal com­mu­ni­ties have long­stand­ing boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sories.

“Our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties must not be per­mit­ted to dump sewage into our drink­ing wa­ter andwe call for a ‘zero dis­charge’ ob­jec­tive, which will bring to an end the all­too-fre­quent beach clos- ings,” said Gor­don Walker, the Cana­dian co-chair­man of the in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sion.

Lake Erie, which has the Great Lakes’ largest fish pop­u­la­tion, draws spe­cial at­ten­tion in the re­port be­cause of a wors­en­ing toxic al­gae plague. While the U.S. and Canada have set tar­gets for re­duc­ing nu­tri­ent runoff that feeds al­gae, they lack en­force­able dead­lines and stan­dards for ap­ply­ing fer­til­izer and ma­nure on crop­lands.


In this photo, al­gae cov­ers the sur­face of Maumee River at the mouth of Lake Erie in Toledo, Ohio. The type of phos­pho­rus fu­el­ing the al­gae out­break has dou­bled in west­ern Lake Erie trib­u­taries since the En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity In­cen­tives Pro­gram started in the mid-1990s, ac­cord­ing to re­search sci­en­tist Laura John­son of Ohio’s Hei­del­berg Univer­sity. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate about 85 per­cent of the Maumee’s phos­pho­rus comes from crop­lands and live­stock op­er­a­tions.

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