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Another Voice: Phosphorus runoff must be reduced to protect Great Lakes

By John Dickert

Because of continuing threats to Great Lakes drinking water from nutrient loadings and harmful algae blooms, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is calling on Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to commit to reducing phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie by at least 40 percent.

As the summer season begins and our attention shifts to spending time on the water, I am concerned about harmful algae blooms that threaten our economy, drinking water and way of life. Unfortunately, we know all too well the havoc that harmful algae blooms can wreak, as the drinking water crisis in Toledo showed last August: families scrambling to find bottled water for drinking, cooking, bathing and other necessities. Without broad and swift action, harmful algae blooms will continue to damage the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system, putting our loved ones at risk.

That is why the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative convened the Mayors Drinking Water Summit in September 2014 to bring together mayors from around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River to urge action to address this critical Great Lakes threat.

We clearly understand the root cause of the harmful algae bloom problem: phosphorus pollution. The primary source of this pollution is fertilizer runoff from farms, carried downstream and into western Lake Erie; cities and industry contribute as well.

We implore the governors and premier at this weekend’s Governors’ and Premiers’ Leadership Summit in Quebec to make a firm commitment to at least a 40 percent reduction target consistent with the International Joint Commission’s proposal. We have to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution leaving our farms and cities and entering our waterways.

All Lake Erie states and provinces need to do their part. We need a clear timetable for achieving at least a 40 percent reduction, with aggressive, firm and consistent interim milestones and final deadlines, and a monitoring plan to measure progress and make adjustments, if needed, to ensure improvements are made and deadlines are met.

Recent opinion research in Ohio confirms that these common-sense actions are based on a concept that voters support. More than 70 percent of Ohio voters support “new, stronger (state) regulations to prevent farm runoff pollution that ends up in the state’s rivers, streams and Lake Erie.”

We are all in this together, and we know that if we work together, we can protect the water quality of our Great Lakes – and the drinking water, quality of life and economy that the Great Lakes sustain. We have done it before. We must do it now.

John Dickert is mayor of Racine, Wis., and chairman of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.