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Officials in Great Lakes Region to Act on Algae Problem, Water Diversion

Last month, Quebec City hosted a conference of the 8 Governors from the Great Lakes US States and 2 from Canadian Provinces to discuss issues facing the Great Lakes.  One of the top issues discussed was the algae blooms on Lake Erie; to which Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario pledged to a reduction of 40% by 2025.

While the pledge is a step in the right direction, environmental groups have tried to call attention to this issue for years but have been largely ignored by government officials in the region.  In 2011, a sixth of Lake Erie was covered with toxic algae blooms. It reduced fish populations, fouled beaches, and most importantly it contaminated the drinking water. The bloom produced a concentration of a liver toxin that was 1,200 times the limit set by the World Health Organization.

The drinking water contamination continues to be one of the largest issues associated with the algae blooms. Just last August, Toledo was without drinkable water for 3 days because of dangerous toxin levels.

Some environmental groups are not only angry with the delayed action, but with the announcement itself. The conference provided no details on how the reduction will be carried out nor any mechanism to ensure compliance. The governors only said that “adaptive measures” will be taken by State environmental agencies.

The Sierra Club and the Food and Water Watch believe the announcement just shows how the agricultural industry continues to remain untouchable. Since the algae blooms are largely created by agricultural runoff containing phosphorus, measures would be taken to regulate agricultural pollution. Unfortunately, no such measure was expressed in the announcement.

A spokeswoman for the Food and Water Watch issued a statement “Relying on voluntary action is irresponsible and leaves a major source of drinking water for the region at the mercy of an industry looking to profit above all else”.

Another big issue raised was whether or not Great Lakes water should be diverted to Waukesha, Wisconsin. This community has had a polluted well for years, and now the Wisconsin DNR requests access to the safe water in the Great Lakes. In order to have access, the request needs approval from all 8 Great Lakes States. Just one vote against it can deny the whole proposal.

State leaders are expected to proceed with caution in forming their response because they believe the decision will become precedent for all future water diversion requests, which will be highly significant in the near future as water becomes scarcer around the country.

Michigan will arguably be the most important voice in the matter as it is the only state completely in the Great Lakes Basin. While it is important to provide those in need with available water sources, Michigan has the most to lose if diversion requests start to flood in.

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