Michigan Declares Western Lake Erie Basin Impaired

Western Lake Erie (photo: Annie Wu)

By Elizabeth Miller

Thursday, Michigan designated its portion of Lake Erie as “impaired,” a move applauded by environmental groups in Michigan and Ohio.

In a statement, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) says algal blooms and high phosphorus levels led to the designation.  The agency monitored and analyzed the blooms, concluding that the basin does not meet Michigan’s water quality standards.

“Michigan’s portion of Lake Erie is small, but in making this determination, we signal the importance of our actions to date and our commitment moving forward to limit the incidences of severe algal blooms that impact aquatic life and wildlife in our waters,” said MDEQ Director C. Heidi Grether.  “Our goal is Lake Erie waters that experience only mild blooms, or smaller, nine out of 10 years.”

If the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accepts the listing, the Michigan agency would have to set pollution limits on what can enter the lake.

The announcement only covers the Michigan waters of the Western Lake Erie Basin.

But in the past, Ohio environmental groups have called on the EPA to set similar limits for western Lake Erie.

Soon after Michigan's announcement, both the Ohio Environmental Council and Lake Erie Waterkeeper called on Ohio to take similar action.

“Michigan’s action shows that Ohio not only has an opportunity, but an obligation to do more to protect our Great Lake,” Adam Rissien, the council's director of clean water, said in a statement. “Declaring all of Lake Erie impaired will bring additional resources and tools to stop toxic algae from continuing to threaten people's drinking water. We simply cannot afford to leave any tools on the table.”

The designation is a part of a Michigan report to the U.S. EPA.  The Ohio EPA has already sent its list of impaired waters to the federal agency for approval. 

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