News Feature | March 7, 2019

Ohio Voters Grant Lake Erie 'Human' Rights

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

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In a nod to just how important water quality has become for Lake Erie — a source body that has been plagued by toxic algal blooms for years — locals have decided to grant it the type of legal rights usually reserved for human beings.

Residents in Toledo, OH, feel that the government hasn’t done enough to protect the lake from pollution, one of the driving factors that has encouraged the growth of toxic algae and led to a water ban in 2014. So they encouraged a special election to determine whether Lake Erie deserves the legal right to flourish and naturally evolve.

“Residents pushed to get the issue on the ballot amid anger over Toledo’s 2013 water crisis, during which city officials told residents of Ohio’s fourth-largest city not to touch their tap water,” WFMZ reported.

And, to the surprise of some, the measure passed easily, granting citizens the right to sue on behalf of Lake Erie if these rights are violated. In addition to creating a new avenue for protecting the lake, the development may create new precedent for similar environmental efforts around the country.

“This was the first rights-based legislation aimed at protecting a whole U.S. ecosystem: the lakes, its tributaries, and the many species that live off it,” according to Vox. “It’s part of the nascent rights of nature movement … Activists in the movement often argue that the environment is the next frontier in humanity’s expanding moral circle: over the centuries, we’ve extended more rights to more and more beings, so why shouldn’t nature itself be next?”

Indeed, the passed measure could have significant ramifications for drinking and wastewater systems in Ohio and beyond. If citizens can sue on behalf of a water body’s right to flourish, they may offer a powerful ally for drinking water treatment plants who must clean that water or potentially take umbrage with some of the standards wastewater treatment facilities have to adhere to as not strict enough.

There appear to be many parties that oppose the measure, mostly on economic grounds.

“Opponents say the law could cost the region jobs and have vowed to fight it in court,” per WFMZ. “The legislation would ‘deter industries from coming to Toledo,’ possibly costing the region jobs, [Toledo City Council President Matt] Cherry said. The city also could end up spending taxpayer dollars to defend the law in court, he said.”

While the exact ramifications of the vote have yet to be seen, it appears that Lake Erie has found a powerful new ally in its fight against toxic algae.

To read more about treating the constituents that can lead to toxic algae, visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "White Water Buttercups surrounded by Green Algae," Gerda Kettner © 2017, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/