Lake Erie: Our Canary is Dying

Lake Erie NASA
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It is a microcosm of environmental disaster, a festering fish-bowl of self-interest, indifference and greed, and a perfect example of the price we pay for not counting all the COSTS on the balance sheet of the future for what we are doing with such arrogant disregard to the planet today.

I encourage you to read the entire sad summary of the state of one of our national water and wildlife treasures. Here are some excerpts:

Blue-green algae is again flourishing in Lake Erie–an ecosystem in danger of collapse

The lake’s center contains a growing dead zone, devoid of oxygen during summer months. Invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels are wreaking havoc with its ecology. The fish that make Lake Erie a tourism draw, including yellow perch and smallmouth bass, are seeing their predators grow and their habitats shrink. Ducks, loons, and mergansers that feed on lake fish have died in recent summers from botulism poisoning. Swimmers in some areas have been advised this year not to swallow the water.

“We are now at the levels of algal blooms and hypoxia that we were at in the 1970s,” says Bridgeman. “We’re back to the bad old days.”

And this time, with clean-water regulations and programs already under attack and a whole new set of scientific challenges, the problem could be much harder to fix.

When it returns from summer recess, the U.S. Congress is planning to take up environmental spending. House Republicans declared their priorities in an appropriations bill that would hack funding for the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to about half its 2010 level. The initiative cleans up toxic chemicals, fights invasive species, and protects watersheds from runoff — many of the things that are necessary to keep Lake Erie from biological collapse.

The bill would also withhold EPA funding from any Great Lakes state that tries to control invasive species with ballast-water standards tougher than the U.S. Coast Guard’s, a provision favored by the shipping industry, which says it’s too hard to comply with a patchwork of state regulations.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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