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News from Lake Erie isn’t great

When unpleasant news about Lake Erie comes along, it gets my attention. Yes, I acknowledge my soft spot for that wonderful lake I know so well, having boated and fished and raised our kids there for 38 years. But this warmest and most productive of the five Great Lakes is threatened from two directions and calls for action are surely justified.

“The Administration can’t explain why we have waited since February for a report that cost taxpayers $6 million,” charged Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, whose district spans much of Lake Erie’s shoreline. “We should be aggressively pursuing action to prevent the spread of the Asian carp to the Great Lakes, yet the roadmap to getting there is sitting on a shelf somewhere in the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Kaptur’s reference is to the Brandon Road Lock and Dam study by the Corps. Frustrated with the delay, she has introduced a bipartisan bill with 38 cosponsors to force the study’s release and a determination of what actions will best protect all the Great Lakes and the $7 billion annual fishing impact. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is also leading by introducing the “Stop Asian Carp Now Act.” Kaptur and Stabenow are respective co-chairs of the House and Senate Great Lakes Task Force.

The threat of Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes has been ongoing since these fish escaped from southern fish farms and subsequently devastated native fisheries up the Mississippi River. Moving north, they’ve made their way upstream and into Illinois waterways that lead to Lake Michigan near Chicago. They represent a serious economic and environmental threat to the Great Lakes because they’ve proven to be fast-growing, aggressive, adaptable and voracious eaters that will outcompete and devastate native fish species for food and habitat, as they have already done in the mid-section of the country.

Sadly, a commercial fisherman recently hauled in a live Asian carp from the Calumet River, which is only nine miles south of Lake Michigan. The alarming discovery of this 8-pound, 28-inch adult carp signals that the electric barriers put in place by the Corps to stop the carp’s march north may not be the answer. It now appears the large (up to 100 lbs.) feisty carp are capable of breaking through the network of electric barriers. Indeed, this is the second time a live Asian carp has been found beyond three electric barriers in the Sanitary and Ship Canal. The prior discovery of a bighead carp in Lake Calumet led to heated debates between Chicago-area business interests and officials in other Great Lakes states who tried unsuccessfully to litigate a forced the closure of shipping locks that separate Lake Michigan from inland waterways.

I can tell you that for many years I fished Lake Michigan for Coho salmon and steelhead trout; Lake Ontario for Chinook king salmon; and Lake Erie, the most productive of the Great Lakes, for its outstanding walleye, perch, small mouth bass, steelhead and more. Even the possibility that these fisheries could be unraveled should shake every angler — and every marine dealer in the Great Lakes region, where fully one third of the industry’s annual boat sales are located. This can’t be allowed to happen.

OH GREAT JOY! For Lake Erie, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has called this summer “special” because it will issue Harmful Algae Bulletins (HAB) in its official NOAA forecasts. July is the season when HABs typically start to form in Lake Erie. NOAA has begun delivering the forecasts in semi-weekly bulletins.

Can’t you hear it now? “Here’s today’s Lake Erie forecast. We’ll have clear sunny skies, calm seas … and oh yes, an abundance of algae as noted in our latest Harmful Algae Bulletin.” That should entice people to buy or use their boat.

Here’s a thought: Instead of a forecast, perhaps the state and federal government agencies should deal with the problem at its well-documented source — crop fields and livestock farms. The fact is, 85 percent of the pollution from animal manure and chemical fertilizers comes down the Maumee River into western Lake Erie, according to the Ohio State University and others.

On the state level, the current voluntary program that pretends to cut down over-applying manure and fertilization on the massive farms in western Ohio, southeast Michigan and northeast Indiana are obviously not working. Voluntary should be out; serious regulatory action and strict verification of runoff prevention requirements should be in.

On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency should declare western Lake Erie impaired, and support aggressive changes to farming practices. But to this point, federal action has been this: In 2014, Congress reauthorized the “Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.” It was originally passed in 1998 to encourage more research. In typical Washington fashion, however, the measure didn’t actually provide funding; it only signaled the need for it.

The truth is algae blooms are now a nationwide problem from coast to coast. It’s time for elected officials and regulators to man up to the farm lobby and say enough is enough.

Comments

3 comments on “News from Lake Erie isn’t great

  1. Bill Martz

    Unfortunately we have an Administration in Washington that doesn’t care…having lessened water quality standards, and as we have discovered in FL., Scientific Findings and Evidence does matter…only business, The politician do not believe in much, but we know they like Green, so Alge is OK by them. Good luck to us all.

  2. CaptA

    6/27/2017

    EPA, U.S. Army Move to Rescind 2015 “Waters of the U.S.”
    The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Army, and Army Corps of Engineers (the agencies) are proposing a rule to rescind the Clean Water Rule and re-codify the regulatory text that existed prior to 2015 defining “waters of the United States” or WOTUS. This action would, when finalized, provide certainty in the interim, pending a second rulemaking in which the agencies will engage in a substantive re-evaluation of the definition of “waters of the United States.” The proposed rule would be implemented in accordance with Supreme Court decisions, agency guidance, and longstanding practice.
    “We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”
    This proposed rule follows the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution. To meet these objectives, the agencies intend to follow an expeditious, two-step process that will provide certainty across the country.
    The proposed rule would recodify the identical regulatory text that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule and that is currently in place as a result of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s stay of the 2015 rule. Therefore, this action, when final, will not change current practice with respect to how the definition applies.
    The agencies have also begun deliberations and outreach on the second step rulemaking involving a re-evaluation and revision of the definition of “waters of the United States” in accordance with the Executive Order.
    “The Army, together with the Corps of Engineers, is committed to working closely with and supporting the EPA on these rulemakings. As we go through the rulemaking process, we will continue to make the implementation of the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparent as possible for the regulated public, ” said Mr. Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. 666 For the pre-publication Federal Register Notice and additional information: http://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule
    Contact Us to ask a question, provide feedback, or report a problem.

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