Lake Erie is the shallowest, southernmost, smallest-by-surface area, and fourth-largest by volume of the five Great Lakes in North America. It has also been fighting an upstream battle, as the lake struggles with the continuous negative impacts of both people and corporations.
For more than a century, reckless government policies, permitting, and licensing of activities have allowed direct dumping of industrial wastes, and runoff of noxious substances from large-scale agricultural and farming practices. Today, the 9,910 square-mile-lake has been “almost dead,” afflicted with hypoxic dead zones, toxic algal blooms (so large they can be seen from space), and invasive species.
However, things are looking up for “little” Lake Erie. In an effort to rehabilitate the lake and prepare for the effects of global climate change, Ohio passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.
Under this bill, which passed last month by 61%, the lake is granted irrevocable rights for the ecosystem to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” This means that its citizens have the right to take legal action if these rights have been violated.
Although legislation is new and it will take time for Lake Erie to fully recover, we have hope that these efforts will lay the foundations for legal protection of natural ecosystems in the future.