Valerie Vande Panne: Battle for Rights of Lakes


In February, the voters of Toledo, Ohio, passed a ballot initiative that gives Lake Erie and those who rely on the lake’s ecosystem a bill of rights. The idea is to protect and preserve the ecosystem so that the life that depends on it — humans included — can have access to safe, fresh drinking water.

On the surface, it seems pretty logical: Humans need water to survive, and if an ecosystem that is relied on for water—in this case, Lake Erie — is polluted (in this case, with algae), then the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (or LEBOR) would ensure the rights of humans would come before the polluters (in this case, big agriculture).

Except, that’s not what’s happening.

Rather, in a perhaps unsurprising move, the state of Ohio has at once both acknowledged rights of nature to exist, and taken them away, with a line written in, of all things, the state budget: “Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate in or bring an action in any court of common pleas.”

Daniel McGraw: Lake Erie Bill of Rights

The Guardian:

The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

Jim Erickson: Voluntary Actions May Not Solve Lake Erie's Pollution Problem

University of Michigan:

Large-scale changes to agricultural practices will be required to meet the goal of reducing levels of algae-promoting phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40 percent, a new University of Michigan-led, multi-institution computer modeling study concludes.

The main driver of the harmful algal blooms is elevated phosphorus from watersheds draining to Lake Erie’s western basin, particularly from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed. About 85 percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the Maumee River comes from farm fertilizers and manure.

The new study, which integrates results from six modeling teams, was released today by the U-M Water Center. It concludes that meeting the 40-percent reduction target will require widespread use of strong fertilizer-management practices, significant conversion of cropland to grassland and more targeted conservation efforts.

”Our results suggest that for most of the scenarios we tested, it will not be possible to achieve the new target nutrient loads without very significant, large-scale implementation of these agricultural practices,” said U-M aquatic ecologist Don Scavia, lead author of the new study and director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

You can ask farmers to help, you can pay farmers to help, you can tell farmers to help, or is there another way? 

Lake Erie Pollution

Layla Klamt, writing for Liberty Voice:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its forecast on Lake Erie’s summer algae bloom for 2014 this week, and at first glance, the numbers are alarming. NOAA and the International Joint Commission say that even though pollutants causing the algae bloom in Lake Erie are high, they are still on the decline from 2011.

Lake Erie is the smallest and shallowest of all five Great Lakes and also has the most river tributaries. Ohio, New York and Ontario, Canada share its borders, and Lake Erie is seen as a vital economic waterway, a source for drinking water and a valuable sewer treatment. The lake has been plagued by many ecological problems since the late 60s, including the toxic algae blooms, a number of invasive species and high levels of Mercury in its edible fish supply. Unfortunately because of all these problems, Lake Erie has come to be known as an environmental sore spot for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NOAA. Efforts to clean up the lake’s shores and protect species have thus seemed like an uphill battle at times.

Powerful the pollution consequences become, the dark side I sense in them.

Zebra & Quagga Mussels are Change Agents in Lake Erie

Creatures living on, near, or below the bottom of the lake—is “fundamentally changed from its past,” according to a paper published online in the current journal of the Journal of Great Lakes Research. Lyubov Burlakova, who works with the Great Lakes Center at SUNY Buffalo State, is the first author. The coauthors are Alexander Y. Karatayev, director of the center; Christopher Pennuto, a research associate with the center and biology professor at Buffalo State; and Christine Mayer, associate professor of ecology at the University of Toledo.

“The story of Lake Erie shows how profoundly human activity can affect an ecosystem,” said Burlakova. She traces that activity as far back as the early 1800s, when people cut down forests and built sawmills and dams.
SUNY Buffalo State

SUNY Buffalo State

This one a long time have I watched. All it's history many have looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never our mind on what is best for the lake. Hmm? What are we doing?

Fertilizer Limits Sought Near Lake Erie to Fight Spread of Algae

Michael Wines, reporting for the New York Times:

A United States-Canadian agency called on Wednesday for swift and sweeping limits on the use of fertilizer around Lake Erie to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the water and creating a vast blanket of algae each summer, threatening fisheries, tourism and even drinking water.

In a report on the algae problem, the agency, the International Joint Commission, said that fertilizer swept by rains from farms and lawns was a major source of phosphorus in the lake. It recommended that crop insurance be tied to farmers’ adoption of practices that limit fertilizer runoff, and that Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania ban most sales of phosphorus-based lawn fertilizers.

Other States have banned phosphorus lawn fertilizers, and the evidence is that such bans are effective in protecting water quality.

Lake Erie algae a threat to Ohio drinking water

AP reporting: 

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Toxins from blobs of algae on western Lake Erie are infiltrating water treatment plants along the shoreline, forcing cities to spend a lot more money to make sure their drinking water is safe.

It got so bad last month that one township told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps.

The cost of testing and treating the water is adding up quickly — the city of Toledo will spend an extra $1 million this year to combat the toxins while a neighboring county is considering a fee increase next year to cover the added expenses.

Polluters need not worry; they have a free ride. We continue to allow private gain at public cost. When will governments create rules for markets for clean water?