Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Keith Burris


Scientists help inspire call to action



A couple of weeks ago, I went out on Lake Erie with Tom Bridgeman of the UT Lake Erie Center and two of his graduate students, Phoenix Golnick and Ken Gibbons. It was a small boat and a long day. The two young people were inspiring.

Both Ken and Phoenix want to continue on with their graduate work once they get their master’s degrees. Both want to stay at UT because they love doing hands-on science; they love being on the lake. Phoenix grew up on the lake. Her parents ran a marina and now do boat engine repair. In fact, Phoenix worked on one of our engines the day we were out — climbing to the back of the boat and straddling the seemingly dead machine with wrenches in hand.

Ken told me: “There’s something about water.”

They want to save Lake Erie.

If only the political class had the same will.

What we were doing that day — I got to help — was measuring the viscosity of the algae. It was thick. The water got clearer as we approached Detroit. The sheer volume of clean water coming from the north is diluting much of the gunk the Motor City is sending south.

But we have little room to criticize Detroit. Mr. Bridgeman told me that the vast preponderance of phosphorus-producing pollutants going into Lake Erie in these parts is coming from the Maumee River.

I spoke with Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council. She says Ohio Gov. John Kasich could, and should, if we are at all serious about Lake Erie, declare the Maumee a “distressed watershed.” If he did that, state law that is already on the books would kick in — there would be scientific testing of the water and the soil and a mandatory plan to manage the algae.

She says it is very simple: From the 1980s to 1995, the lake got healthier. From 1995 to now, it got sicker. The reason is changes in farming — the growth in industrial farming. She says farming regulations did not change correspondingly. She says that most of what we ask of farms is voluntary, and that’s not cutting it.

I suspect the lake problems are not as simple as one big cause. Or solution. But it seems to me that if the governor declared the Maumee to be distressed, we’d start to get answers.

We call this a “crisis,” but we are not acting like there is a crisis. As Toledo Councilman Jack Ford, a former state legislator, said, if we really believed it was a crisis, the legislature would be called into special session.

And, we’d be insisting on a reasonable, achievable, action plan.

Moreover, Ohio EPA should test for a definitive answer to former Public Utilities Director Tom Kovacik’s contention that leeching from the Facility 3 landfill is further contaminating the Maumee. He makes a strong case, and it merits full investigation. Let’s find out if he’s right.

The young have the passion, but their elders still have the power. Let’s do right by them: Governor Kasich, break the deadlock of blather and hand wringing: Declare the Maumee officially “distressed.”

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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