Toronto, ON – Environmental and conservation groups are applauding mayors from around the region for convening a Great Lakes Water Quality Summit held today in Chicago, Illinois. The meeting, organized by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, comes on the heels of a number of drinking water bans impacting 500,000 Americans and Canadians this summer due to high levels of dangerous toxins from massive algal blooms in Lake Erie.
Cities around the Great Lakes are working hard to reduce nutrient pollution especially phosphorus, the main culprit behind the blooms. While more work is always needed, cities are taking significant steps to reduce nutrients from sources such as sewage treatment plants and combined sewer overflows. But cities cannot address this problem alone. Much of the excess phosphorous flowing into the lakes is coming from agricultural sources. Mayors around the Great Lakes should encourage federal, state and provincial government agencies to help the agricultural industry reduce the amount of nutrients from farm fields. Moreover, there is a need for increased leadership from governors and premiers to accelerate the setting of nutrient reduction goals and to then translate these targets into implementation plans.
“Great Lakes communities are working to reduce nutrients in our waterways, while agriculture, a major culprit, gets a regulatory pass,” said Kristy Meyer, Managing Director of Agricultural, Health & Clean Water Programs at the Ohio Environmental Council. “Local officials cannot solve this problem alone. State governors and provincial premiers must commit to nutrient limits and implementing plans that include both carrots and sticks to reduce the nutrients flowing into our Great Lakes.”
“When our drinking water is threatened, people take notice,” says Nancy Goucher, Program Manager at Environmental Defence. “Algal blooms are not only a threat to drinking water, they can make water unsafe for swimming, suffocate fish, close beaches, and damage local economies reliant on recreational tourism.”
Algal blooms happen when naturally-occurring algae grow out of control because of excess nutrients, specifically phosphorus. Factors such as invasive species and climate change are making the problem worse. “More frequent heavy rainstorms aggravate efforts to reduce farm runoff and city and septic sewer overflows – we must work with agriculture and stormwater managers to adapt to a changing climate,” said National Wildlife Federation’s Frank Szollosi, Manager of Regional Outreach.
“Communities can have a big impact in stopping harmful algal blooms,” states Tony Maas, Policy Specialist for Freshwater Future. “By hearing from residents that this is an important issue we can help drive needed changes for healthy lakes to recreate in and safe water to drink. We encourage people to have these talks with their local officials.”
“Our Great Lakes cities, states, businesses and NGOs have a strong history of collaboration to solve problems. And, I am confident that we can solve this one. Three key actions are needed: a pollution control commitment from our states and provinces, a clear target to aim for and, a level playing field that recognizes that pollution is pollution no matter whether it comes from a pipe or from land that is producing our food,” said Joel Brammeier, Alliance for the Great Lakes, President and CEO.
For more information on what needs to be done in Canada to protect the Great Lakes from algal blooms, please refer to the four-point action plan in the Clean, Not Green: Tackling Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes report published by Environmental Defence and Freshwater Future at environmentaldefence.ca/algae.
The groups issuing this release are: Environmental Defence, Freshwater Future, Ohio Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and National Wildlife Federation.
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For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
In Canada
Stephanie Kohls, Environmental Defence, (416) 416-885-7847 (cell); skohls@environmentaldefence.ca
Tony Maas, Freshwater Future, (519) 572-9972 (cell); tony@maas-strategies.com 
In the U.S.
Kristy Meyer, Ohio Environmental Council, (614) 487-5842 (office); (614) 638-8948 (cell); KMeyer@theoec.org
Jennifer Caddick, Alliance for the Great Lakes, (312) 445-9760; jcaddick@greatlakes.org