You think it can’t happen to Lake Michigan, until it does.
Ribbons of a lime-green algae rolled in with the waves the morning of August 8th outside Douglas, MI. I stood alongside my bicycle with a group of other horrified onlookers, staring at a sight none of us had seen before. The shallow waters of our beloved lake were coated with a film of green.
This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Toledo water crisis.I remember photographs of the thick, pea-green soup of Lake Erie that shut down Toledo’s water supply in 2014. The source of contamination was the explosive growth of a toxic algae, an alga fueled by agricultural runoff rich in nutrients. The health of Lake Erie, considered a bellwether lake for the Great Lakes because of its shallow depth, remains in crisis four years later.
But Toledo is not the only city, Lake Erie not the only lake, plagued by increasing levels of algae caused by agricultural runoff. And while not all alga is toxic, an increasing number of lakes, streams, rivers, harbors, and now—shorelines—are plagued with a film of green that effects the quality of the water and can be a nuisance to boaters, beach walkers, and swimmers.
Many of the traditional farming practices place the quality of our water at risk. And while there are well-researched and documented solutions that would reduce agricultural runoff—as reported in my 6/9/2016 blog about efforts to remove Lake Macatawa from the list of impaired waterways— change can be difficult, and potentially expensive, to the farming community.
I worked for a boss once who said leadership was contained in the word “and.” As leaders of the corporation, we needed to achieve profitability goals, and exceed customer expectations, and be the best company for which to work, and be a socially-responsible member of the community, and a steward of the planet.
If there were unlimited resources to do everything, the company wouldn’t need us, he told his management team.
That is why Week 3’s question is about leadership. We need politicians willing to tackle the elusive, difficult-to-achieve “and.” Families visiting the 11,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline should be able to walk the beaches or swim the waters without the ugly, annoying, potentially toxic algae blooms, and municipalities need clean, safe drinking water, and we need to support an industry that fuels our states’ economies.
If it was easy and there were unlimited resources, we wouldn’t need leaders finding solutions that balance the many diverse, often-competing interests of the stakeholders of our freshwater. At a minimum, it makes no sense to use tax dollars to subsidize farms not using best demonstrated practices that protect our water.
If you are as heartsick as I at the site of our lake, please contact elected officials and candidates seeking your vote. And consider writing a letter to the editor to your local paper. You can see mine, posted Saturday in The Holland Sentinel.
It is our collective responsibility to prevent green from becoming the new blue.
The McKSchmidt Questions: Week 3
A Grassroots Effort to Prioritize Clean Water
Question: What is your plan for significantly reducing harmful algae blooms caused by the excessive levels of nutrients found in agriculture runoff that threaten the quality of our water in the Great Lakes, inland lakes, harbors, streams, and other sources of freshwater?
Making it easy: A Michigan contact listing of elected officials and candidates may be found at the bottom of the McKSchmidt Questions page—underneath the feet standing in Lake Michigan photograph. Click on the name and it will take you to the appropriate place to leave a comment.
(Please copy and paste this question--or your own--and email it to elected officials and those seeking your vote. Thank you. Responses may be found at McKSchmidt Questions.)
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