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88 percent of Great Lakes residents agree lakes deserve bigger investment

An overwhelming majority of people who live near the Great Lakes keep wanting more investments in protecting those iconic bodies of water even if it means slightly higher costs to consumers and taxpayers, according to new poll results issued by a bi-national commission that reports to the U.S. and Canadian governments.   

The venerable International Joint Commission, which since 1909 has helped the two nations settle common issues affecting the Great Lakes and other shared boundary waters, found even stronger support for the lakes in 2018 than in its last report in 2015, with 88 percent wanting more done for lake protection compared to 85 percent three years ago.

The report was issued Tuesday. Some 4,250 residents across Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ontario, and tribal nations were polled by the IJC’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board.

Water pollution and aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp were among the threats identified in the questionnaire.

Of that 88 percent majority, 39 percent believed all sectors of society can play a role in restoration efforts, while 23 percent and 18 percent of respondents listed federal and state/provincial governments, respectively, as primarily responsible for the lakes’ health.

RELATED: Ohio governor wants new farm rules to fight Lake Erie algae

Some other findings:

■ Eighty-nine percent believe it’s important to protect the lakes for recreation, up 3 percent from 2015. Thirty-five percent of those have used the lakes for swimming or beach visits, while fishing and boating was the primary interest for 27 percent in that category. Lake Michigan is the most visited lake, followed by lakes Ontario, Erie, Superior and Huron.

■ More than half of respondents believe there are too few regulations to protect the lakes, compared with 46 percent in the 2015 poll. Some 55 percent said they are willing to have costs for some consumer products rise to get greater protection of the lakes. Most believe additional rules will either have no impact on the economy or will help improve it.

■ Four of every five respondents agreed citizens have responsibility as individuals to help protect the lakes. Some the more popular actions included having people take more care in what they put down a drain, doing more to conserve water, and engaging more frequently in online forums and Great Lakes interest groups, as well as with public officials.

■ A greater percentage of respondents — 59 percent, compared to 50 percent in 2015 — expressed interest in news and information about the Great Lakes than they did just three years ago. Newspapers and various Internet sources were cited as the most popular places to find that information, and were preferred over social media, television, radio, emails, or correspondence from organizations and utilities, according to results.

And while only 21 percent of the respondents knew what the IJC is, a whopping 80 percent believe in its mission of facilitating cooperation between the United States and Canada on Great Lakes issues, up from 74 percent in 2015.

“It is clear that the Great Lakes community cares deeply about the resource, is prepared to accept increased costs to protect it, and recognizes personal responsibility to be part of the solution,” said David Ullrich, co-chair of the IJC’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board. He also is former executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, and a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Midwest regional administrator.

The report, which is online at bit.ly/2Jg18dowas done both this year and in 2015 for the IJC by a firm called Oraclepoll Rearch, which was founded in 1995 and has offices in Toronto and Sudbury, Ont. According to Oraclepoll’s website, it has done polling for a cross-section of industry, government, and nonprofit groups over the past 22 years.

The survey was done by telephone using live person-to-person interviewers. All calls were made by Oraclepoll research staff between Jan. 5 and Jan. 30. Only one resident at each chosen household 18 years of age or older was interviewed. A mixture of landlines and cellular telephones were called, the report said.

Initial calls were made between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Callbacks because of no answers or busy lines were made between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. The margin of error was determined to be plus or minus 1.5 percent.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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