Invitation to Protect Lake Erie

Invitation to Protect Lake Erie

The Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Invites You to Get Involved and Protect Lake Erie. In 1815, accounts of the Maumee River describe the fish as so numerous that a spear could be thrown and would rarely miss killing one. No less than 1,000 fish were caught in the downtown Toledo area and the shoals of the Maumee Bay swarmed with ducks and geese. And Maumee Bay was one of the most prolific spawning grounds in Lake Erie.

The far western end of Lake Erie is the old Black Swamp now known as the Maumee Watershed Area of Concern. Over 4 million acres of land drain water into 3,920 stream miles forming the largest watershed in the Great Lakes. Lake Erie, the only Great Lake above sea level, is the warmest and shallowest in the Great Lakes with an average depth of only 25 feet in the Western basin. The Detroit River delivers over 80% of the water to Lake Erie. The basin is home to millions of people who live in urban areas like Windsor, Detroit and Toledo.

Western Lake Erie is where tourists gather on sandy beaches in the warm summer waters and access the best walleye fishing in the world. There are dozens of islands, several with outdoor dining and entertainment, and others with camping and views of shore birds and eagles. And the always popular Cedar Point.

While there are a number of great things about this area, there are also many concerns in the Western basin that require attention. The same beaches where tourists like to gather are often under advisory because of dangerously high bacteria levels. Raw sewage dumped into the waters from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) during rain events are often the cause of these beach advisories.

The Black Swamp was cleared and drained in the mid to late 1800’s and much of the land was converted to agricultural use. Sedimentation and non-point source pollution from fertilizers, pesticides, and manure contaminate waterways throughout Northwest Ohio and may even contribute to the Lake Erie Dead Zone.

There are three coal-fired power plants here where nearly three billion gallons of water are used daily for cooling purposes. One power plant alone withdraws an amount of water equal to the entire volume of the Maumee River! According to the Clean Air Task Force, the cooling water intakes kill fish resulting in damage to fish populations and economic fishing losses. The water that is discharged from these power plants is much hotter than the average temperature of the Western basin.

In September 2004, the I.J.C. stated,“Environmental problems in the Lake Erie ecosystem function as early warning signs for the other Great Lakes. As the shallowest of the lakes, Lake Erie has the shortest water retention time (less than three years), but it also has the largest watershed relative to its size, the highest human population density, the most farmland, and the largest number of major cities. These factors converge to make Erie the Great Lake where ecological disruption often shows up first.” Lake Erie is the miner’s canary of the Great Lakes. The report includes a number of issues affecting Western Lake Erie including: growing phosphorous concentrations, invasive species, urban sprawl, wetland loss, algae blooms, and declining fish populations. Despite all of these concerns, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Watershed Restoration Plans in the Maumee River are not scheduled until 2011.

While tourism abounds in the Western Basin, the challenge is to improve the water quality, aquatic habitat, and fish populations and to reduce the sources of pollution including causes of fish consumption advisories like mercury.

I want to invite you to become a Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Volunteer by adopting a mile of shoreline or riverbank. You can select a mile and complete a survey once a month of shoreline/bank observations which could include spills of suspicious substances and pollutants, dead fish, debris, raw sewage odors, and water clarity.This information will be placed in a database and on the Maumee Bay Association’s website at the end of summer 2005. I have an outreach presentation on Western Lake Erie, Maumee Bay and the Maumee River that I can bring to your organization or community group. And folks can join in on clean-up projects throughout the basin. There are a number of ways to get involved and make a difference for Lake Erie,Maumee Bay, and the Maumee River.

There are many shoreline/river bank property owners who love the water and there are many fishermen and boaters that know that the water needs help. We are the advocates for the water and we can make a difference. This is the vision of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper. Join us at

contributed by Sandy Bihn,
Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper
Maumee Bay Association
(419) 691-3788 •



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.