By Matt Reese
There is no doubt the people of Toledo care about Lake Erie — and they should — though it could be argued that some of this caring is misguided and counterproductive. This is certainly the case with the recently Toledo-voter approved, and fairly bizarre, Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR). I do believe that no small amount of genuine caring went into the effort to get LEBOR passed, but I am also pretty certain that Lake Erie itself most definitely does not care.
Now with a Bill of Rights like a person, Lake Erie (whether it cares or not) can take legal action against parties who could damage it.
“[The lake] now has legal rights, but they would say that the lake is an indefensible entity, so therefore it needs help defending itself. Help is granted to the lake by passing the LEBOR law and allowing the citizens of Toledo to come to the lake’s defense as a legal entity,” said John Torres, with the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. “This puts everybody — not just farmers — at risk in the Lake Erie Watershed. If you live in any of about 35 Ohio counties surrounding the lake in northern Ohio, some counties in Michigan and Indiana, areas in Ontario, Canada, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York, you could be subject to this law that the people of Toledo have passed. This could be anybody that some concerned citizen in the city of Toledo thinks may be contributing to pollution in the lake however they define it in a citizen-led lawsuit. In theory, the city could even end up suing itself under this new law.”
The legalities are definitely a bit fuzzy for LEBOR, which is why the legal battle began the day following the special election in Toledo when the Drewes farm in Wood county filed suit regarding its constitutionality.
It is hard to see how the political and legal wrangling of LEBOR will do anything positive for the quality of the lake and it would seem that good old-fashioned lack of patience is largely to blame for whatever fiasco ensues from LEBOR.
“According to extreme environmentalists, we haven’t moved fast enough for them,” Torres said. “They have been looking for every tool they can find to get their agenda pushed through as fast as possible. This is the latest tool they are employing to advance their agenda for the lake.”
Unfortunately, though, lawsuits and LEBOR will not speed up the reality of cleaner water, and will probably do the opposite. LEBOR has taken (and will take) valuable financial resources that could instead be used for actual water quality improvement measures. According to the Toledo Blade, the citizens of Toledo shelled out $254,400 for the special election that included LEBOR. This significant sum of money could have been vastly more useful if it would have instead been used to add 12 or 13 on-farm phosphorus filters in the watershed, which remove up to 75% of the phosphorus running through them.
Moving forward, the results of the election will result in unknown (but certainly staggering) legal and court costs. How many filters, controlled drainage systems, cover crop acres, and nutrient incorporation tools could be bought with the cost of upcoming LEBOR legal battles? It is a head scratcher to be sure.
Meanwhile, a mountain of money is being spent on research efforts, implementation of best management practices on farms, and edge-of-field water monitoring efforts to find and enact real solutions for improving water quality that, admittedly, will take some time.
Though there are a few Toledo voters who are very excited Lake Erie now has a Bill of Rights, I can assure you the lake is monumentally uninterested.
Lake Erie is a treasure,
On that we can agree.
And with great treasure,
The blessings and the burdens,
Are all of ours to share.
But I’ve got news to tell you,
The Lake don’t care.
You can stand upon a podium,
And cite all of the ills,
Of farming and pollution,
human waste and manure spills.
You can scream, “It isn’t fair!”
You can take a farmer into court,
But the Lake don’t care.
The Lake was green before us,
It will be green when we’re past,
Now it is true that what we do,
Has impacts that can last,
But so do weather, wildlife,
And the ecosystems we all share.
I asked about its thoughts and found,
The Lake don’t care.
You may care, your neighbor may care,
(You can ask them if they do).
(no matter who they sue).
You can berate and legislate
Or conversate (though rare),
Or celebrate or demonstrate,
But the Lake don’t care.
We need to keep on learning,
And let time and patience work,
And spend more time cooperatin’,
Than shoutin’ and actin’ like jerks,
Casting blame and passing the buck,
Pointing fingers here and there,
And raising a holy hullabaloo,
‘Cause the Lake don’t care.
Algae green, hard earned and real,
For this vexing Lake Erie deal.
It takes time from planting to harvest,
All in agriculture know that’s true.
And while Lake Erie does not care one bit,