Boating, sport fishing and other outdoor activities on or near the Great Lakes have long been key drivers of Michigan’s economy and cornerstones of our way of life. That’s never been more true than during the summer of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of our precious Great Lakes, as people across the region have turned to outdoor recreation as a way to weather the crisis safely.
But for more than a decade, harmful algal blooms have plagued Lake Erie each summer, closing beaches and other recreational areas and putting at risk businesses that rely on clean, fresh water and the outdoor enthusiasts it attracts. Last year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other regional leaders made a commitment to tackle the problem by reducing nutrient pollution into Lake Erie, committing to a 20 percent reduction by 2020 and a 40 percent reduction by the year 2025. Right now, Ohio’s efforts to tackle the problem are outpacing Michigan’s. It’s time for Michigan to start doing its part.
This week, the Great Lakes Business Network sent a letter to Governor Whitmer, signed by 21 business leaders, calling on her to start taking significant steps to meet her commitment. Businesses that depend on a healthy Lake Erie are counting on Governor Whitmer’s leadership to help them remain viable.
Outdoor recreation supports more than 232,000 jobs in Michigan, providing $7.5 billion in employee income and generating more than $2 billion in tax revenue each year. Michigan anglers support an annual $2.3 billion fishing economy, and southeastern Michigan counties contribute a significant share of the state’s hunting and fishing economy. Lake Erie is a crucial component of that economic activity.
In addition to threatening our regional economy, harmful algal blooms can also threaten our health. Eleven million people get their drinking water from Lake Erie. In 2014, 400,000 of them were without potable water for several days when toxic algae infiltrated Toledo’s water system. That threat remains, forcing business owners and rate payers to endure increased costs for water monitoring and treatment.
The leading cause of nutrient pollution in Lake Erie by far is agricultural runoff. While many farmers have pitched in to help by implementing sustainable runoff management practices, too many agricultural operations are not doing their part. Ohio has already taken several positive steps to reduce nutrient runoff by establishing the H2Ohio program, funding agricultural conservation practices and wetland restoration, and instituting a ban on the application of fertilizer and manure on frozen, snow-covered or saturated ground. Harmful algal blooms don’t observe state boundaries, and Michigan should join Ohio in combating the problem.
Every day, members of the Great Lakes Business Network comply with laws and regulations put in place to protect our communities, employees and environment. We understand that the health and safety of our citizens and our ecosystem are part of our responsibility as private sector leaders—and an indispensable part of creating a healthy climate for our businesses.
Michigan can and should develop its own momentum for meeting nutrient reduction targets. Governor Whitmer should lead by calling for collaboration among all stakeholders to identify aggressive actions that will lead to meaningful nutrient reductions to Lake Erie. She should then use her leadership to make those actions happen. Governor Whitmer can also lead by adopting a management framework similar to the Ohio has implemented for establishing local nutrient targets and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that quantify local nutrient sources and secure local plans to meet those local targets. Steps that are data-driven and collaborative can demonstrate that Michigan takes seriously its responsibility for ensuring Lake Erie remains a treasured natural resource that people, communities and businesses can rely on for generations to come. And they will show our neighbor to the south that Michigan will go the distance in protecting our precious water resources.
TAKE ACTION TODAY: Visit this link to contact Governor Whitmer and request action to protect Lake Erie.