Did you hear about the big news that came out of the Great Lakes governors and premiers’ summit in Quebec City this weekend?
On Saturday, Premier Wynne stood up for Lake Erie by signing a landmark agreement with Ohio and Michigan that commits to reducing phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie by 40 per cent by 2025. This level of reduction is what groups like the International Joint Commission and the Great Lakes mayors say is needed to move toward ridding the lake of harmful algal blooms.
The agreement also sets an interim target of a 20 percent reduction by 2020 and commits each jurisdiction to develop a plan for how they will achieve the phosphorus reduction goal.
Algal blooms happen when algae—microscopic, plant-like organisms that naturally live in the water—grow out of control. The main culprit behind the blooms is phosphorus pollution which comes from sources such as agricultural fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants and poorly maintained septic systems. Climate change and invasive species are making the situation worse because they help to create a perfect environment for algal growth.
In the 1970s, when algal blooms were suffocating Lake Erie, governments on both sides of the border teamed up and helped bring the lake back to life. This kind of coordinated action is needed once again. This week’s commitment is a good sign that our leaders recognize this need and are prepared to step in and protect the health of the lake.
In recent years, algal blooms have become more than just a nuisance on Lake Erie. They are now a serious health and economic concern, which could begin to stifle the region’s $5 trillion economy if not addressed quickly. This was ever so apparent last year, when Toledo, OH declared a state of emergency for 500,000 citizens last summer due to the presence of high levels of algal toxins in the city’s drinking water supply.
Last year, Environmental Defence raised the alarm on algal blooms with our Clean, not Green report. It outlined a four-point action plan for reducing phosphorus pollution, including the use of market mechanisms to pay farmers to stop nutrient pollution.
Environmental Defence looks forward to bringing our ideas forward and working with Canadian and U.S. governments and the farming community to develop the action plans needed to meet the necessary reductions.