Lake Erie Nutrient Letter

Lake Erie Nutrient Letter


To the Governors and Premiers of the Great Lakes states and provinces:

The Victoria Day and Memorial Day holidays mark the official start of summer for millions of people around the Great Lakes. Early summer rituals are underway as people dig out their bathing suits, stock up on sunscreen, and plan trips to the nearest beach. But, for people living near western Lake Erie, summer means something very different – the appearance of slimy, lime green water in the lake, closed beaches, and most worryingly, concerns about drinking water safety. Why? It’s all due to toxic algal blooms that plague large parts of the western Lake Erie basin each summer.

We know that the algal blooms, fueled by nutrient pollution running into the water, will return again this summer. And, they will continue to return summer after summer until farmland runoff and sewage treatment are addressed comprehensively. Even more concerning: thanks to previous damage to the lake, the impacts of invasive zebra and quagga mussels that exacerbate pollution problems, and the effects of a changing climate, the nutrient problem will likely get worse if we do nothing.

The region experience a serious wake-up call last summer. Last August, nearly half a million residents of the Toledo area faced a drinking water ban lasting more than two days and thousands of residents of Pelee Island faced a ban lasting nearly two weeks because a massive toxic algal bloom made water from Lake Erie unsafe to drink. It is unacceptable that Lake Erie has been polluted so significantly that drinking water for approximately 11 million Americans and Canadians is at risk. Fortunately, this problem is not out of our control. It is preventable.

Report after report by leading university researchers and government agencies show that the science is clear: dissolved phosphorus from agricultural runoff is driving the resurgence of harmful algal blooms. We call on you, the governors and premiers of the Great Lakes states and provinces, to commit to at least a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus, with an emphasis on reducing agricultural sources. This reduction commitment must be accompanied by an identification of sources of phosphorus, a timetable with a firm deadline, clear milestones, and a monitoring plan to measure progress that is reported to the public each year.

The Great Lakes region has come together again and again in a uniquely bi-partisan manner to do what is right for the lakes. And, we can do it again. Until our lakes are free of harmful algal blooms, our economy, drinking water and way of life are in jeopardy. The time for action is now, at your summit on June 12, to commit to solving this problem. The health of our lakes and our region depend on it.


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