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Friday, December 14, 2012

More Action, Less Planning

U.S. and Canadian officials signed a new Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in early September, updating the original document first signed in 1972.  The strategy to protect the water shared by the two countries now includes focus on climate change, invasive species and other emerging issues.  But not all Great Lakes advocates are happy.

“We were wanting real targets eliminating certain things, certain percent habitat restoration, things of that nature that are clear targets with guidelines,” said John Jackson, interim executive director and program director for Great Lakes United.  “Our frustration is that these planning processes can take far too long and we need action now.  Lake Erie can’t wait three years for you to decide what your targets are and for [another] five years before you develop an action plan.”

Lack of specifics, and the need for transparency and accountability are among the criticisms being leveled by many other advocates.  Negotiations between the U.S. and Canada on water quality management have historically been somewhat secretive and citizen groups like Great Lakes United want that to change.

Andrew Buchsbaum, co-chair of Healing Our Waters Coaltion (of which the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy is a member organization), noted that in the past four decades the Water Quality Agreement has played a major role in battling nutrient and sewage pollution, and other contaminants like mercury and polychoinated biphenyls (PCBs).

“The question is whether the Agreement can move us quicker toward action plans that really have a chance of working,” said Conservancy President Bill Taylor, of Duck Lake in Calhoun County.  “We don’t need any more vague problem statements.”

A week after the new Agreement was signed, scientists gathered in Cleveland to discuss the health of the Great Lakes, and in particular, Lake Erie.  Among the topics were toxic algae blooms, possible entry of Asian carp, and fish kills in July (near Cleveland) and September (in Canadian waters of Lake Erie).

Last year, scientists from both the U.S. and Canada monitored a huge toxic algae bloom that covered the western third of Lake Erie.  The bloom clogged harbors and fouled boat motors.  Less phosphorous entered Lake Erie this year, but biologists are discussing strategies for long-term phosphorous control to thwart re-occurrences of the bloom next year and beyond.  

“We hope all this discussion leads to prompt action,” said Taylor.

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