Groups Urge State of Michigan: Comply with Clean Water Act, Protect Lake Erie Drinking Water

Conservation organizations urge DEQ Director Heidi Grether to act with urgency to limit pollution into Lake Erie to stop harmful algal blooms.

Ann Arbor, MI – Conservation groups are urging the state of Michigan to use tools required by the Clean Water Act to limit the pollution into Lake Erie to prevent harmful algal blooms like the 2014 bloom that poisoned drinking water for more than 400,000 Toledo residents. Groups are asking the state’s top-ranking environmental leader to list Michigan’s portion of Lake Erie as impaired to set in motion actions to help heal the Lake.

The call for action comes as the state of Michigan is months behind complying with a mandated Clean Water Act deadline to identify troubled waters in the state, which should include Michigan’s portion of Lake Erie. Over the last decade, Lake Erie has experienced a resurgence of harmful algal blooms that have poisoned drinking water, hurt commercial fishing, and deterred tourism.

Under the Clean Water Act, states must set and enforce limits on pollutants discharged into rivers, lakes and streams to protect drinking water and other recreational uses such as swimming and fishing. Every two years, the Clean Water Act requires the state of Michigan to release by April 1 a list of waters it deems as needing protections to uphold people’s ability to drink clean water and enjoy recreational uses like swimming and fishing. Michigan has, to date, not submitted its list to the U.S. EPA.

“Michigan needs to act with urgency to address this problem,” said Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “The public needs to know what Michigan waters require attention because they are failing to meet established standards for drinking water, swimming, fishing and other uses. The state of Michigan has a duty to inform its citizens in its role as steward of the state’s waters and should meet its obligations of the Clean Water Act.”

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether, the top-ranking environmental official in state, has the final say on which waters are included on the list. Conservation groups are urging Grether to include Michigan’s portion of Lake Erie on the list of impaired waters.

“This is an opportunity for the state of Michigan to stand up for the millions of people who depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “The Clean Water Act has been an immensely successful tool to help restore waters across the country, and it can help us protect Lake Erie from the serious threat of harmful algal blooms.”

The state of Michigan joined the state of Ohio and province of Ontario in agreeing to reduce phosphorus pollution into Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025, the amount that scientists predict is needed to curb harmful algal blooms. Ohio and Michigan are in the process of developing plans to meet those pollution reduction goals.

“Michigan has the opportunity to be a leader in the region and help us put an end to the threat of harmful algal blooms once and for all,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “The Clean Water Act provides powerful tools to protect our drinking water, public health, and economy. It’s time to use them. We can solve this problem—but it’s going to take action. State leaders have said the right things—now they have to follow through.”

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