“The rivers and lakes of northwestern Ohio are under assault by phosphorus… action to curb the pollution flowing into western Lake Erie is overdue.” – Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board
Often dubbed the “Walleye Capital of the World,” Lake Erie has a prominent place in the hearts of Midwesterners. It is the southernmost Great Lake with shores in several states, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Canadian province of Ontario. It is the source of drinking water for 12 million people, and it provides 1/3 of the tourism and travel revenue for the state of Ohio. However, as the shallowest and most industrialized Great Lake, Erie is also most susceptible to threats of pollution.
Harmful algal blooms have shocked local communities in recent years, depleting oxygen levels, blocking sunlight, and causing dead zones in the water. Some of these terrifying green clouds of algae even produce microcystin bacteria, which is more poisonous than cyanide and in some cases can cause liver damage and other ailments in humans and animals. In 2014, a massive algal bloom shut down Toledo’s water supply to 400,000 people for three days, and the National Guard was deployed to bring in bottled water. Local ratepayers have since faced millions in additional costs for water treatment plant upgrades to deal with algal toxins. Despite ongoing outrage and mounting legal challenges, these harmful algal blooms are expected to worsen as the heavier spring rains in a warming climate drive more of the runoff from large farms that fuels continued algae growth.
What is ELPC doing?
- In the summer of 2017, ELPC sued the U.S. EPA for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act and protect Lake Erie communities. A federal judge agreed and the Ohio EPA declared western Lake Erie officially “impaired” in 2018, which should have prompted a cleanup plan from the state-level EPA as mandated under the Clean Water Act. However, Ohio EPA has yet to provide an effective phosphorus-reduction plan.
- In February 2019, ELPC filed a new related lawsuit against the Trump Administration EPA, challenging its approval of an Ohio EPA decision in June 2018 to make western Lake Erie a low priority for action under the Clean Water Act. The Ohio EPA has admitted it lacks an effective alternative plan for reducing phosphorus pollution into western Lake Erie. As a remedy, ELPC and its co-plaintiff asked the court to oversee a meaningful compliance plan that includes progress reports and a timeline for phosphorus pollution reductions.
- We have been working with local allies to push Ohio to clean up Lake Erie directly. The newly elected Governor Mike DeWine has an opportunity now to enact a plan and be known as the Clean Water Governor, living up to his inauguration speech promise “to preserve and protect our magnificent Lake Erie” as one of his top priorities.
- ELPC is also partnering with local researchers to examine sources of pollution along the Maumee River basin, stretching into Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. This watershed is overrun with massive industrial agriculture, which contributes excessive fertilizer and animal waste into the waterways that connect to Lake Erie.
Recommended Binational Phosphorous Targets to Combat Lake Erie Algal Blooms (2015)
What Causes Algal Blooms? (2018) – from Indiana University’s Center for Earth & Environmental Science
Great Lakes Commission’s ErieStat website (2019) – Tracks phosphorous levels
BlueAccounting Source Water & Nutrient Impairment Maps (2018)
State of Ohio’s Domestic Action Plan (2018) – Aspirational goals that contain no real enforcement mechanisms for significantly reducing pollution
Hitting us where it hurts: The untold story of harmful algae blooms (2018) – NOAA website with first-hand accounts across the country