Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018
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Time to call Lake Erie what it is — impaired

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    A close-up of raw Lake Erie water being held by Chris Winslow, Ohio Sea Grant and OSU Stone Lab director, earlier this month.

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  • lake-erie-algae-water

    A sample of algae-filled Lake Erie water taken Aug. 18.

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Questions may remain for some about the wisdom of declaring western Lake Erie impaired under the federal Clean Water Act. But reality is knocking at the door.

The mayor of Toledo and the governor of Ohio resist this designation. They believe the impaired label will drive away tourists and discourage businesses and people thinking of moving to our region. 

But what did the move from “clear” to “watch” on the water-quality dashboard last weekend do for economic development?

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The lake is once again covered with a carpet of sickly green algae blooms. Experts recently estimated that algae blooms on other Ohio lakes have diminished property values $152 million in the last six years.

“If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s impaired,” advocates for the impairment designation say.

In 2015, Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario signed the Western Basin of Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement, which calls for a 40 percent reduction by 2025 of the total phosphorus loads, which are fueling toxic algae in the lake.

The 40-percent reduction is a goal nearly everyone has embraced. That’s laudable, except that without the teeth of federal enforcement, it is just a goal — a vague wish that right and reason will prevail; a pipe dream.

And, so far, the region is not making much progress toward the goal.

Working under an impairment designation will mean that phosphorus-reduction targets will become mandates with the force of the Clean Water Act behind them, which is key.

“There is no voluntary process in this country that produces the results we need,” says Sandy Bihn, of the Lake Erie Foundation, one of the groups pressing for federal designation.

But even as advocates press authorities for this designation, there is work that meanwhile can be done by those seeking to save Lake Erie.

Stakeholders are in a position to reach consensus on more than the 40-percent goal. They can get to work now on elements of what should eventually become a Lake Erie cleanup plan. They could create the partnerships that will be necessary and delineate the best practices.

This is the strategy used in Chesapeake Bay during the decade before the Obama administration finally designated that body of water impaired in 2009. When the federal government needed data and a blueprint for saving Chesapeake Bay, that information was ready, because environmentalists, business leaders, and political leaders had been assembling it for years.

This preparation meant that authorities could spring quickly into action implementing a $2.84 billion federally funded cleanup plan that saved Chesapeake Bay.

Truisms take hold because they are true. The picture above is worth 1,000 or more additional words.

Read the words on this sign, posted at Maumee Bay State Park last weekend, closely.

We should be stunned, embarrassed, and outraged by such a sign.

How can we deny that Lake Erie is impaired?

No one wants to swim in it.

You cannot swallow the water, if you do swim in it — a neat trick.

Maumee Bay State Park is a ghost town much of the time. It was last weekend.

We got another wake-up call last weekend.

How many do we think we are entitled to?

How long will Ohio and Toledo officials dither and sleep?

We have entered the black comedy of the absurd: As we refuse to say Lake Erie is what it is — impaired — it becomes more impaired.

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