Report: Great Lakes protection falls short

Leonard N. Fleming
Associated Press

The United States and Canada need to do much more to help protect the Great Lakes from algal blooms in Lake Erie as well as harmful chemicals and invasive species, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The report issued by the International Joint Commission found that the two governments have not succeeded as much as hoped for in protecting human health “related to drinkability, swimability and fishability,” as well as reducing pollutants that threaten humans and wildlife and controlling nutrients.

The report states that the governments of Canada and the U.S. “are living with the costly consequences of past failures to anticipate environmental problems.”

The U.S. and Canadian governments spend money on trying to prevent these environmental problems “at current or higher levels,” the commission said in a report that it releases every three years.

“The IJC commends the governments of Canada and the United States for their vision, commitments and actions under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. But the issues are many and complex,” said Gordon Walker, Canadian section chair for the commission in a conference call with reporters.

“We must have sufficient water treatment infrastructure to eliminate the release of untreated and partially treated sewage. We need enforceable requirements in order to meet nutrient reduction targets and reduce powerful algal blooms.”

The report comes after an algal bloom in September turned the Maumee River and western edge of Lake Erie up to Canada florescent green, alarming residents and prompting local officials to lobby the Environmental Protection Agency to take action. Phosphorus-rich fertilizers and manure running off from large livestock farms into Lake Erie, some carried by the Maumee River, fed the growth of the bloom.

The report is the update on how the United States and Canada are doing “to protect and restore the Great Lakes” as the world’s largest fresh water resource under the 45-year-old Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The goal, the authors of the report say, is to help the Great Lakes provide clean drinking water “to everyone, everywhere” and upon setting goals to “monitor the results.”

Lana Pollack, the former Michigan lawmaker from Ann Arbor and current U.S. sections chair of the IJC, said during the conference call there’s a lot of “science behind” its findings but that it’s “up to the public and the other legislators” to push the message of addressing these issues facing the Great Lakes.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If your constituents are facing terrible algal blooms or contamination of many other sorts or invasive species, the pressure is on those legislators,” she said. “And they have been very responsive. We are confident that that kind of public concerns and commitment and bipartisan support will continue.”

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