One-year after Toledo drinking water crisis

Where are we now?

July 29, 2015

A year ago, something happened that shocked our Great Lakes region – a major city found toxic drinking water moving through its taps.

There were warnings. Small groups of scientists and citizens have known for decades that Lake Erie was uniquely at risk. But no one truly expected that nearly half a million people would be told they could not have water, despite living on the shores of the world’s greatest freshwater asset.

This puts Toledo in a place it certainly does not want, and cannot afford, to be. It is a signal that the Great Lakes region is sliding backwards. If we lose clean drinking water, we lose everything. If thousands or millions know the Great Lakes only as a place with dirty water, closed-down beaches, and towns no one wants to visit, we foreclose the greatest opportunity in a generation to rebuild our region. If our water induces fear in people rather than inspiration, the idea of the Great Lakes as a center of innovation, tourism, talent attraction and economic growth will evaporate.

Our region has shown we have the power to fulfill big commitments, and we now have one for Lake Erie. I am pleased to thank Governor Kasich, Governor Snyder of Michigan and Premier Wynne of Ontario for making a promise to the people of western Lake Erie: that by 2025, the phosphorus pollution that causes toxic drinking water will be reduced by 40%.

That is tons of phosphorus – we estimate it at more than 5 million pounds. Stopping 5 million pounds of pollution in ten years is going to be tough, and we need to get serious about how that’s going to happen – or it won’t.

The state of Ohio took a step toward stopping pollution earlier this year with new laws that require initial changes to agriculture practices. We appreciate the efforts of Governor Kasich and the General Assembly. Much more remains to be done – not just by Ohio, but in a collaboration with each state and province that contributes to the problem.

First, we need a clear plan that allocates pollution reduction to all the sources that need to reduce – from chemical fertilizer, manure, wastewater and more.

Second, we need a world class monitoring system – both to protect the health of the public during a crisis, and to know if the steps we take to reduce pollution are having any impact.

Finally, we need to report transparently and honestly every single year between now and 2025 on how much pollution has been removed from Lake Erie. And we have to be willing to demand more pollution control if the data shows our efforts aren’t working.

We have an immense challenge in front of us. We have a commitment to address that challenge. Now our job is to make that commitment real so every Great Lakes community and citizen knows that Great Lakes water will be clean, safe and here for them and their families for generations.

This blog post was originally written as remarks by Joel Brammeier, Alliance for the Great Lakes President and CEO, at a press conference in Toledo, Ohio on July 29, 2015.