Ohioans who value Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes may find themselves humming the Johnny Winter blues tune One Step Forward (Two Steps Back).
The sort-of good news is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under pressure from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, has backed away from its plan to dump 180,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River into Lake Erie near Cleveland. Such disposal re-suspends silt laden with phosphorus, which contributes to the lake’s plague of toxic algae.
The Cleveland open-lake dumping also would have occurred near intake valves for drinking water. Who thought that was a bright idea?
But the success is incomplete: The Corps, with Ohio EPA’s approval, plans to dump 1.2 million cubic yards of dredge from the Toledo Shipping Channel into Lake Erie this summer. Toledo is the most heavily dredged port on the Great Lakes — more than all other Ohio ports combined — because it’s so shallow.
If open-lake dumping is impermissible in the lake’s eastern end, why is it OK in the western basin? There have to be better ways to store and dispose of dredged material. The Corps, Ohio EPA, and officials of local port authorities need to work together to identify and execute them.
In Toledo, that also will mean closer scrutiny of Facility 3, the Maumee Bay landfill where Toledo’s sewage sludge, as well as dredge, are deposited and repackaged as landfill cover. The state’s new capital budget includes $10 million to develop new ways to reuse dredged material. That’s a good start.
More alarming are new reports that invasive Asian carp may have found another potential route into the Lake Erie watershed. An analysis of water samples gathered from the Muskingum River in southeast Ohio last fall identified genetic material from bighead carp, its so-called eDNA. The study found no live, or dead, carp in the river — yet.
Asian carp consume the food supply and destroy the habitat of native fish species. Their presence in Lake Erie would threaten the Great Lakes’ extensive fishing industry — and the jobs, businesses, and tourism that depend on it. To avoid such a disaster, all potential points of entry to Lake Erie need to be blocked to the fast-breeding carp.
The best way to prevent infestation of Asian carp in Lake Erie and the other lakes is clear: physical separation of the Great Lakes near Chicago from the watershed of the Mississippi River, where carp proliferate. Such an effort would be expensive ($18 billion) and time-consuming (25 years), the Corps estimates. But no better alternative has emerged.
Lawmakers of both parties, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), support such hydrologic separation. That advocacy needs to become law, now.
Congress also would show essential support for Lake Erie by at least maintaining current funding — $300 million a year — for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That broad-based plan seeks to keep the lakes healthy by cleansing them of toxics, combating invasive species, protecting watersheds from pollution, and restoring wetlands.
President Obama kicked off the restoration initiative in 2010 with first-year funding of $475 million. But his budget proposal for the next fiscal year would reduce annual spending to $275 million.
Lawmakers from Great Lakes states, including both of Ohio’s senators and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) — a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee — say they favor the $300 million allocation for the lakes initiative. Their colleagues in Congress, and the President, need to pay attention.