Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Impairment designation a welcome victory for Lake Erie

Last week was a good week for Lake Erie.

Finally relenting after years of denying that the lake’s pollution required federal intervention, Gov. John Kasich announced last Thursday that his administration would officially declare the western portion of the lake impaired, under the terms of the Clean Water Act.

RELATED: Kasich declares Lake Erie impaired

For years, Mr. Kasich denied that impairment was necessary. Michigan’s governor declared his state’s small portion of the lake impaired. Still Mr. Kasich would not budge. Toledo’s last mayor — also a longtime impairment opponent — looked at algae blooms on the Maumee River downtown last summer and changed her mind, calling on the governor to do so too. Still, Mr. Kasich would not budge. Finally the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency instructed state authorities to revisit the science they used to make their decision about the lake’s status and reconsider their position.

The Kasich administration had insisted that the voluntary measures for reducing pollution that feeds the toxic algae on the lake each summer would be enough to clean up the lake. The voluntary programs implemented in recent years, however, have not been enough to put the state on pace to hit its 40-percent reduction goal by 2025.

Now, with the official impairment designation in place, serious science and serious enforcement will follow. The designation will bring tighter rules for agriculture and other industry now polluting the streams and rivers that flow to the lake, which should give Lake Erie a fighting chance to recover.

The governor’s announcement came hours after Congress approved an appropriations bill that will return the $300 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding that the Trump administration slashed in a draft budget. Launched in 2010, the program has provided more than $2 billion to restore wetlands, research algae blooms, and clean up areas polluted by the region’s industrial past.

The initiative’s funding has been threatened repeatedly in recent years, putting Lake Erie in greater peril.

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The Lake Erie cleanup is an urgent issue for northwest Ohio. The pollution crisis that produces toxic algae each year threatens our clean drinking water, our $14 billion a year tourism industry, our economic development, and our quality of life.

It is well past time to bring real science to the fight to save the lake, studying exactly where the pollution is coming from and setting firm limits on that pollution to reduce the toxic flow of algae-feeding nutrients to the open lake.

Meeting the pollution-reduction goals that will save Lake Erie is going to take the force of federal law and federal funding and enforcement. Last week the lake got a real shot at both.

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