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Published: Friday, 2/9/2007

Panel: Lakes need accelerated action

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The stakes are high for the Toledo area and other parts of the Great Lakes basin as a 98-year-old international board pushes for greater accountability in managing the world's largest collection of fresh surface water.

The health of western Lake Erie, the basin's warmest, shallowest, and most fruitful for fish reproduction, affects the raw source of Toledo's drinking water, the tourism-based sector of its economy, and much more.

The International Joint Commission, in its 13th biennial report on Great Lakes water quality that was released in Chicago yesterday, said the United States and Canada have been "good, but not exemplary, stewards of our lakes."

"The lakes today are less polluted than they were decades ago. But toxic, human, animal, and industrial wastes, as well as pharmaceuticals and airborne substances, continue to pollute our lakes," the report said.

It went on to say the future of the lakes "is uncertain."

"The time has come to make bold binational commitments and to accelerate actions to restore and protect our lakes," the report said.

Specifically, the venerable IJC - the commission that is supposed to unite both governments on common issues affecting boundary waters - wants the governments themselves to be held more accountable for their actions.

IJC commissioners told reporters yesterday they have come to the conclusion that talk - not action - has prevailed. And they said they're so fed up with the situation they want an international board created by mid 2008 that would take a multipronged approach to seeing that promises are kept.

As Canada's Herb Gray, the dean of the commission, put it: "The present agreement calls for deadlines for reporting [problems], but not for action."

The IJC's call for more accountability comes as it is in the process of trying to overhaul the present Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the two nations, signed in 1972 by former president Richard Nixon and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Though it has been amended on a couple of occasions since, it is viewed as antiquated because of how the world has changed in the era of globalization and climate change.

Global warming wasn't on the agenda in 1972, nor was the potential havoc that could occur at fisheries because of the possible intrusion of Asian carp, which scientists are fighting to keep from entering Lake Michigan near Chicago.

Nor was there viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, a virus that was recently discovered in Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. It poses no risk to humans, but causes bleeding in fish.

"To us, this is the ideal time to call attention to a core feature of success," said Allen Olson, a U.S. commissioner and co-author of the report.

By core feature of success, he was referring to all forms of accountability - from adequate government funding to data being consistently provided.

"We can't be pointing fingers at anyone else anymore. This resource is too important," Mr. Olson said.

He said citizens themselves "have a responsibility to squawk and make some noise" with members of Congress and other officials on a complex and myriad set of issues that include bacteria warnings at beaches, sewage overflows, and access to clean water.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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