Lake Erie’s New Bill of Rights Has Angered Ohio Farmers

Written by Katherine Martinko

But others consider it a good opportunity to reevaluate agricultural practices.

This past February, a group of environmental activists and concerned citizens from Toledo, Ohio, managed to get†a Bill of Rights passed on behalf of Lake Erie. The lake has a right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve,” the document states.

The bill was inspired by a crisis that occurred in 2014, when Toledo’s water supply became contaminated by microcystins, a blue-green algae that was blooming in the southwest corner of the lake.†Civil Eats reports, “If it comes in contact with the skin, microcystin causes rashes; if ingested, it can also cause vomiting and liver damage.” Eventually it was determined that the algae blooms were caused, at least in part, by agricultural runoff.

The Bill of Rights was created preserve water quality and ensure such contamination never recurs, but it has enraged farmers throughout the region who view it as a threat to their livelihoods. As described†by Nicole Rasul in Civil Eats, the months following the bill’s passing have consisted of lawsuits against the city, calling the bill “vague, unconstitutional, and unlawful,” and resulting in the city agreeing on March 18 to hold off temporarily from enforcing it.

Agriculture is prominent in the area. There are 17 counties in the Maumee watershed, which covers 4 million acres and is the biggest watershed in the Great Lakes. More than 70 percent of this land is used for farming.

Animal feeding operations throughout the watershed have expanded rapidly over the past 15 years, from 9 million animals in 2005 to 20.4 in 2018. But, as the†Environmental Working Group states, only operations above a certain size are subject to regulation by government agencies, which means there’s little reliable information on where and how many of these facilities exist, and the amount of manure and phosphorus they produce.

Data for permitted facilities†in the state reveals that 900,000 solid tons of manure and 1.5 billion gallons of liquid manure were produced in 2017. Rasul writes, “In the western Lake Erie watershed, the 64 permitted operations alone produced nearly a quarter of the solid manure in the state and almost half of the liquid manure.”

Much of this manure is sold to farmers who use it to fertilize croplands, both in solid and liquid form. This is contentious for a few reasons. First, some argue there’s too much manure in the region for it to be applied to farmland at “an agronomic rate” and an alternative means of disposal needs to be found. Second, farmers shouldn’t be spraying liquid manure and should focus on spreading solid instead, as it’s not so prone to runoff.

All of this goes to show that the fight between the two sides is fierce and there is a lot at stake. Some believe it’s not all or nothing, that there are ways of farming Ė and even applying fertilizer Ė that don’t threaten the lake. Joe Logan, a farmer and president of the Ohio Farmers Union, does acknowledge that Lake Erie’s pollution problem is driven by agriculture runoff:

He tells producers who feel threatened by the Bill of Rights that their livelihoods are not in jeopardy if they arenít over-fertilizing their fields or applying manure haphazardly. “We [didnít] get into the situation with the phosphorus levels we have right now without having a few bad actors,” he says.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but one thing is for sure: we can’t have our meat and eat it too. This problem is driven by consumption habits and we, as consumers, need to take responsibility for the food choices we make that have a direct impact on the health of our waterways.

It’s no longer business as usual. The world is changing, we’re more aware of what’s going on behind closed barn doors, and the pressure is only going to mount on governments to implement stricter environmental regulations and oversight.

In the meantime, the people behind the Lake Erie Bill of Rights have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from other communities and countries. Clearly it’s something to which many people can relate.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Photo Credit: uniquelycat (Cathy) Smith/Flickr


Michael Friedmann
Michael F4 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

Virgene L
Virgene L4 days ago

Everyone needs to take responsibility, both farmers and city dwellers. Malls and businesses need rain (runoff) catchment basins to store and filter storm water. Developers need to install storm water run-off basins too and home owners can put in "rain" gardens. Gardeners need to use less fertilizer and go more organic (just like they want the farmers to do). For sure, farmers need to be responsible for their run-off. These big industrial facilities create a lot of waste. That waste could be used to create energy (methane) and dried to apply to crop growing land. Good luck! We love Lake Erie!

RK R4 days ago

First, farmers are encouraged to use natural fertilizers instead of chemical fertilizers. Second, the amount of nitrates, phosphorous is small in comparison to the same chemicals flushed down urban storm sewers. Third, the amount of auto pollutants from the same urban areas that infiltrate Lake Erie is of greater concern to the overall health of the lake. Fourth, showing a picture of Lake Erie filled with motorized boats is neither supportive of the article nor in favor of a Bill of Lake Rights.

Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A4 days ago

Glad to see that someone is trying to protect the water ways! Farmers need to be aware of what happens with waste runoff. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Wallace
Linda Wallace4 days ago

This is a good change and it is time.

Kenny Wes
Kenny Wes4 days ago

This is why you need common sense regulations. People are mostly dumb or greedy.

Barbara S
Barbara S4 days ago

thanks for sharing

Bonnie Lynn M
Bonnie Lynn M5 days ago

Thank you

Anne M
Anne M5 days ago

Don't go near the water...

Alea C
Alea C5 days ago

The only issue here is whether or not people want to continue eating dead animals or do they want to drink clean water?