Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Keith Burris


Scientific plan crucial to help improve lake



U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) are heroes for putting the health of Lake Erie again at the center of our attentions and for so swiftly coming up with $2 million for farmers to transition and change.

But, I think we need something else. We need more science. And we need a plan — a comprehensive plan.

I spent a little time with Sandy Bihn of Lake Erie Waterkeepers this week — Lake Erie’s greatest champion in our region. She’s a very knowledgeable and dedicated lady. But she is not what I expected — not an environmentalist blinded by a very admirable passion. She crunches numbers and gathers data. Ms. Bihn has an MBA and a long background in government finance. And what she helped me to see is that we have not yet broken down, systematically and by percentages, where the problems are in the lake and what they are caused by.

More important, because we have not done that we have not yet identified what Ms. Bihn calls “the low hanging fruit” — causal factors of lake pollution that might be dealt with relatively quickly and easily.

For example, if we knew that liquid manure was a cause of, say, 7 percent of the problem, might we take that on before farm fertilizer? Another example: some people say human waste from Detroit is a big part of the problem. Others say it is negligible. Or: Some scientists say that 90 percent of the problem in the lake is farm fertilizer. Others say there is no solid evidence that fertilizer is the overwhelming cause of the phosphates killing the lake. We need clear and firm answers. We need a comprehensive assessment.

Out of that assessment should come a comprehensive plan for attacking the problem.

Right now, there is no such plan. There are a lot of little efforts — admirable but unconnected. There are many hands throwing theories and dollars at the problem. But this is not a time to let many flowers bloom. This is a time for organization and a command structure.

The best mechanism for this total assessment and strategic plan is an executive order from the President. This would deploy all the expertise and force of the federal government on the problem at hand — the sickness of Lake Erie. Executive order is the mechanism by which the Chesapeake Bay is being saved. People will be swimming in it again in two years. Prior to the executive order, help for the Chesapeake was disjointed. Local officials floundered.

Patchwork solutions and a haphazard attack will not cut it. This is a time for a comprehensive approach. We need more science, a total assessment, and a master plan — so we don’t waste the money and don’t fail in our mission: to save Lake Erie. Admittedly, the President has much on his plate and executive orders enrage the right wing. But I hope Senator Brown and Representative Kaptur will go to the President and ask him for this vitally necessary tool.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.

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