Environmental groups say the federal and Ontario governments need to step up to the plate to protect the lake
Toronto, Ont. – Today the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its forecast for the 2020 algal bloom season on Lake Erie. This year’s bloom is predicted to have a severity level of 4.5 with the potential to reach a 5.5. The forecast is just another reminder that current efforts to restore the health of the lake are insufficient.
“This year’s forecast shows that we’re not making nearly enough progress on saving Lake Erie,” said Kelsey Scarfone, Water Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “We need governments to get serious about addressing phosphorus pollution if they want to prevent billions of dollars’ worth of damage caused by Lake Erie’s annual algal blooms.”
Excess phosphorus, mainly from agricultural lands, continues to wreak havoc on the lake and its tributaries on both sides of the border. Meanwhile, here in Canada, the Canada-Ontario Action Plan for Lake Erie has yet to see much progress. The plan, finalized in 2018, committed to sharing implementation details with the public no later than February 2019. To date, the public has yet to see any such work plan.
In comparison, across the lake, Michigan and Ohio have started to implement their domestic action plans to reduce the amount of phosphorus running off agricultural fields and into the Lake Erie watershed. Ohio also has set aside substantial funding— $172 million over two years— through H2Ohio to support farmers in putting best management practices on farm fields and to reconstruct wetlands to reduce phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie.
We cannot afford the continued delays on the Canadian side of the border.
“A healthy lake is vital for wildlife, drinking water, and our economy,” said Raj Gill, Great Lakes Program Director at the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “COVID-19 has hit our recreation, tourism, and service sectors hard. Now is the time to invest in projects that restore natural areas, reduce pollution, and allow people to enjoy all that Lake Erie offers.”
Algal blooms cause beach closures, kill fish, harm local economies, and add additional water treatment costs driving up water rates for residents. According to a 2019 study, if action isn’t taken to solve this problem, algal blooms could cost the Canadian Lake Erie basin economy upwards of $297 million per year. The study also found that costs could hit $5.8 billion by 2050 if governments fail to intervene. On the other hand, investing in freshwater health by creating wetlands, planting trees, and implementing agricultural best practices can create jobs and support a green economic recovery.
The Ontario and federal governments and their U.S. counterparts have made commitments to tackle algal blooms by reducing the amount of runoff pollution entering the lake. Last June, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine re-committed to meeting a 40 per cent reduction of phosphorus in Lake Erie by 2025 and an interim phosphorus reduction target of 20 per cent by 2020. This reduction target has not been achieved. Therefore, it is imperative to have plans in place to reduce phosphorus flowing into the lake, resources to support the plans, and a way to monitor and measure progress.
“Right now, it is unclear how progress is being tracked and measured,” said Kristy Meyer, Associate Director of Freshwater Future. “The Canadian federal and Ontario governments must develop a comprehensive implementation plan, put funding resources behind it, and work with the Ohio, Michigan, and the U.S. federal governments to develop a process for measuring water quality improvements to protect Ontario’s economy and public health.”
Environmental Defence, Freshwater Future, and the Canadian Freshwater Alliance call upon the federal and Ontario governments to take swift action to reduce runoff pollution and fight the increasingly frequent and severe algal blooms that threaten the health of the lake, and the local economies, people, and fish that depend on it.
ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.
ABOUT FRESHWATER FUTURE (freshwaterfuture.org): Freshwater Future Canada works to ensure the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region. As the only watershed-wide organization dedicated solely to supporting the needs of community-based groups and actions working to protect and restore Great Lakes land and water resources, we are able to help protect and restore the Great Lakes like no other organization. Freshwater Future provides grants, shares information, offers training and capacity building, and elevates local community members’ voices in the decision-making process.
ABOUT THE CANADIAN FRESHWATER ALLIANCE (freshwateralliance.ca): The Canadian Freshwater Alliance builds, connects and supports freshwater initiatives across Canada. We work with NGOs, community groups, governments and businesses to strengthen citizen voices and participation in protecting our lakes and rivers. We are a project on the MakeWay shared platform (makeway.org).
For more information or interview requests, please contact:
Jen Mayville, Environmental Defence Canada, 905-330-0172 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Raj Gill, Canadian Freshwater Alliance, 705-329-3357 (cell), email@example.com
Kristy Meyer, Freshwater Future Canada, +1-614-638-8948, Kristy@FreshwaterFuture.org