Parts of Lake Erie are in critical condition, and the recent summer heat has made that situation more acute.
Toxic algae blooms in the lake have already reached a trouble point. The blooms in warm, shallow water usually reach their peak by mid-September.
But climate change is causing heavier spring rainfall. Add to that runoff from fertilizer and lawn chemicals, and a growing presence of invasive zebra mussels in the lake. All of these things raise phosphorus levels, and hence algae in Lake Erie.
The stench from algae has a chilling effect on tourism. If we are not motivated by environmental ethics, we ought at least to act out of self-interest: Lake-based tourism accounts for 117,000 full-time jobs. The drinking water of nearly 3 million people also is in jeopardy.
Certainly farmers need to curb their use of fertilizers and other chemicals. Most scientific experts agree that the primary cause of algae in the lake is agricultural runoff.
But public entities also need to stop dumping raw sewage into the lake. Gov. John Kasich is outspoken in his criticism of Detroit’s sewage policy. Sewage is dumped into Lake Erie from scores of Michigan communities via Detroit’s water and sewer system. It has gotten worse in the past several years, as equipment began to degrade and Detroit’s government could not afford to fix or replace it.
The Kasich administration is right to press Michigan for action. It will take federal, state, and local governments to address this problem.
If the algae problem this summer doesn’t get our attention, nothing will. We need to save our magnificent Lake Erie — again.