My views of the Great Lakes Water Quality Protocol of 2012, which was signed on September 7, 2012, by the United States and Canada, are influenced literally by where I sit. For almost four decades I have daily seen the broad expanse of Lake Erie from my office window. For as many days as I can in the summer, I sit on its beaches and swim in its waters. Occasionally, I have sat on boats and fished Lake Erie. My view of the Protocol is also influenced by the existence of many other Great Lakes programs, such as the Great Lakes Initiative, the Lakewide Management Plans, Remedial Action Plans, the Great Water Program, the Binational Toxics Strategy, Great Lakes 2001 as well as several State of Ohio programs aimed specifically at addressing Lake Erie’s environmental issues.
From where I sit, my view of the Protocol is not whether it is a comprehensive program or whether it recognizes the values of the Great Lakes. Rather, my view is whether it will assist in addressing the most critical threats now facing the Great Lakes, and to Lake Erie in particular. Those threats are, in my opinion, irreparable damage to the Lake Erie fishery and the continued inability to enjoy its beaches and other locations for swimming on many summer days due to the combined impacts of CSOs and excessive algae blooms due to nutrient loadings.
An invasion of the Asian carp into the Great Lakes threatens a permanent change in its fishery, the nature of which cannot be predicted. The Asian carp would determine what the Great Lakes fishery would be. Combined sewage overflows into the Great Lakes continue to produce beach closings for days after rainstorms forty years after the enactment of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and beach closings can be expected for at least another 40 years based on the current trajectory of CSO Control Projects. The current generation of algae blooms in Lake Erie has produced swimming advisories for large portions of the Lake that persist for weeks.
Of the many issues that the Protocol addresses, preserving and enhancing the public’s ability to swim and fish in the Great Lakes are the most important. For the public to fully value and to love the Great Lakes, they need to be able to touch it by wading, swimming or fishing. Public support for the many programs under the Protocol will depend ultimately on the public’s love for the Great Lakes.