CALL FOR ACTION / Great Lakes Business Network advocates for stronger measures to address harmful algal blooms

A coalition of businesses from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario have banded together to demand that policymakers take meaningful action related to Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms.

The Great Lakes Business Network released a report this week entitled ‘The Impacts of Lake Erie’s Harmful Algal Blooms on Great Lakes Businesses,’ to coincide with the release of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecast for the lake.

NOAA is forecasting a relatively small bloom this summer, and if that forecast holds true it would be the first time since 2007 that the lake saw mild blooms in consecutive years.

The GLBN – which was formed in 2017 and consists of over 170 member businesses from the aforementioned states and Canadian province that ring the lake – held a webinar Tuesday to discuss its report, which can be found on their website:

The document breaks down, by state and province, the financial impact HAB’s have on businesses such as fishing charters, breweries, and other enterprises that are directly affected when Lake Erie’s waters are deemed unsafe for recreation and/or consumption. It also recommends additional collaborative measures to address HABs, including a partnership between Michigan and Ohio on the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s development of the Maumee Watershed Total Maximum Daily Load (TDML).

This TDML initiative is a calculation of the maximum amount of the nutrient-rich phosphorus – the main food source for the algae – that would be allowed to enter the lake while still ensuring the lake meets water quality standards for the pollutant.

Jimmy Banish, COO of GLBN member The Bear Factory toy store located in Whitmore Lake, said the coalition is also recommending the strengthening of the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program, a voluntary initiative that encourages farmers to adopt environmentally-friendly practices.

“We should also ensure the State of Michigan is doing all it can to stop animal waste polluting Michigan waters, including banning all manure applications on all frozen or saturated ground,” Banish said. “Water quality is what defines us, so it’s important we take initiatives to have awareness and public support to protect it and address environmental threats like algal blooms.

“We encourage policymakers in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario to take these mattes seriously and work on solutions.”

GLBN Coordinator and report co-author, Lisa Dinon, said many businesses have had to make significant alterations to their operations in order to ensure both the health and wellbeing of their customers and employees, as well as the continued viability of their operations.

“I think that’s one of the really great assets of this report thats being released is that we’re seeing already some of the ways that businesses have had to adapt to continue operating and withstand the HABs that they’re already experiencing,” Dinon said. “I think our Lake Erie business community is very resilient, and I think that they’ve demonstrated that, but certainly there are some concrete consequences across industries if this is not addressed.”

Aubrey Miller, founder and CEO of all-natural soap company Redbudsuds, said she joined the business network because she was “interested in practical solutions that protect our water.”

“What members of the GLBN like myself are asking for is action,” Miller said. “Harmful algal blooms in 2011 cost Ohio $71 million in economic loss. In 2014 it affected drinking water for 400,000 Ohioans in the Toledo area. Clearly we do not want to continue down this path. That is why the GLBN supports the Maumee Watershed TDML project to document nutrient sources and establish a nutrient reduction plan that allows us to meet the established targets.”

Dinon said the network hopes to “move the needle” by sharing the economic and personal impacts HABs have had on its businesses and the wider community that relies on Lake Erie.

“This community is bearing the brunt of the failure to act, and the failure to correct this problem that has been an issue for many years,” she said.