Stakeholders push for Lake Erie health awareness


WESTSHORE – The Ohio EPA has yet to label its portion of Lake Erie as “impaired,” despite the fact that Michigan has done so and environmentalists continue to push for the designation — a starting point for a more aggressive campaign against pressing issues like invasive species and algal blooms.

With the future of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and EPA funding in general, also in question, (restoration funding that under President Trump’s proposed budget would be cut entirely) Lake Erie stakeholders and legislators are continuing to speak out on the issues faced by the lake and ongoing initiatives to ensure its future health.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who serves as co-chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force, held a panel discussion Monday evening at the Rocky River Memorial Hall. Included was Jeffrey Reutter, special advisor with Ohio Sea Grant; Dorothy Baunach, water innovation cluster director at the Cleveland Water Alliance; Charlie Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest deputy regional director; and Deborah Lee, director of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Among other stakeholders and experts, in attendance was Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka, Rocky River Mayor Pamela Bobst and Avon Lake Regional Water Chief Utilities Executive Todd Danielson, who’s extensive outreach includes a seat on the Cleveland Water Alliance board.

Reutter explained that the lake supports a $14 billion tourism industry. He warned constituents not to be fooled into believing there is a choice between jobs and a clean environment.

“We want both,” said Reutter.

And though he said the solutions to Lake Erie’s issues are evident, “We do not have this problem solved,” he added, referring to six areas of concern: excessive nutrient loading, harmful algal blooms, dead zones, invasive species, sediment loading and climate change.

Runoff from the agriculture industry, which dumps unsustainable amounts of phosphorus into the lake, resulting in toxic algae, is the primary culprit contributing to an unhealthy lake.

Reuter said the objective isn’t to cut agriculture, but mitigate its effect with concerted efforts, including enforcing better farming practices concerning fertilizer and an effort to better preserve habitats across the state that help tributaries better manage what gets dumped into the lake. This is in contrast to the misconception that the lake can be managed in coastal areas alone.

The national Clean Water Act passed in 1972 after the Cuyahoga River caught fire and the extreme pollution in the lake could be seen in thick, green algal blooms, progress was made and the lake became the walleye capital of the world. Around 2011 to 2015, said Reuter, the lake’s health got back to where it was in the 1970s. Algal toxins, he explained, are more toxic than cyanide.

Reuter said that less than 1 cent of an individual’s tax dollars goes to the US EPA.

He added, “When you look at your tax dollar, and you look at the national Sea Grant college program, which is supposed to be eliminated in the president’s budget; and you look at the coastal management program, which is supposed to be eliminated; and you look at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is supposed to be eliminated. If you take all of those things together, they represent less than a tenth of a percent of your tax dollars.”

Wooley later vowed to continue protecting the lake no matter what funding hurdles come up.

Kaptur said forums like this and continued outreach are part of an important public awareness campaign designed to attract national and global attention to the how important a healthy Great Lakes Region is.

She said she regularly takes people on tours of the waterfront, highlighting its assets and issues.

“It looks clean,” they tell her, signaling more awareness is needed.



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