New voices speak out about threat of Lake Erie algae and what must be done

New voices speak out about threat of Lake Erie algae and what must be done
Near Toledo's water intake, August 2014 (Source: Frank Szollosi)
Near Toledo's water intake, August 2014 (Source: Frank Szollosi)

(WTOL) - We can be thankful this Thanksgiving that we haven't had another water crisis in the 15 months since the first. Part of that is dumb luck, but part is also better planning and better treatment of the water from the Toledo intake, through the treatment plant, to your tap.

As Toledo's news leader, WTOL continues its ongoing commitment to protect our water with a look at where we are now and some new voices vowing to beat this toxic threat, once and for all.

This year's Lake Erie algal bloom was the worst ever recorded. The luck is that it didn't park its green, slimy self "smack dab" over Toledo's water intake.

"We saw increasing levels of toxic algae several years ago," said Cameron Davis, Senior Advisor to the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He sounded frustrated, less about where we've been than where we're going.

"The frustration to me isn't so much looking back over the past 14 months, it's knowing how much we have to do, really, in the coming years," Davis said.

On a positive note, the U.S. and Canada have reached an agreement targeting a 40 percent reduction in phosphorous into Lake Erie. That should be finalized early next year, but the devil will be in the details.

So when will we get those? Well, hold on to your faucet.

"The agreement we have with Canada, that we struck in 2012, is that we would have the domestic action plans ready in early 2018," Davis said.

But Davis says they're not waiting and are already investing in programs to reduce phosphorous going into the lake.

Also not waiting is Rotary International.

"There's a point at which we have to stop and say whatever we're doing is dysfunctional. It's not leading to any solution," said Andy Stuart, president of Toledo's Rotary Club.

The Toledo Rotary Club is the 11th largest in the world. It played host to the Lake Erie Watershed Crisis Conference. Rotary clubs from around the region and even Canada showed up for the event.

Rotary International is the same service organization which, in 1985, set out to conquer polio in the world. To date, they've reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent. It's tough to bet against them.

Law professor Ken Kilbert says lawmakers can yet do more to help.

"The general assembly could restrict the sale of phosphorous-containing fertilizer for lawns," Kilbert said. "Other states have done so; Michigan has done so.  And Ohio has not."

And there are calls, still unheeded, to have the Western Basin watershed labeled impaired, which could trigger mandates on polluters.

But some, like 2,000-acre farmer Bill Myer, prefers voluntary compliance with research-based guidelines.

"Every aspect of the population is always concerned with the government getting more involved in their lives than they already are. And [agriculture] would be no different from any other one of those," Myer said.

Since WTOL started its coverage of the water crisis last year, officials have said it took a long time to get into this mess, and it's going to take a long time getting out of it.

"I'm not gonna varnish this," David said. "This is a tough, thorny, complicated problem."

"It doesn't daunt us," Stuart added. "It doesn't tell us to go away. It tells us, no, we need to double down our efforts."

For WTOL's complete coverage on the water crisis and aftermath, click here.

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