Hey Toledo: The lake don’t care

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,

Comes responsibility.

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 give the Lake a Bill of Rights,

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).

Markie Miller cares, Toledoans care,

(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.

All the while I’ve seen farmer dollars,

Algae green, hard earned and real,

Invested to find real solutions,

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,

I know farmers do.

Do you?

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  1. Really? We the people and Us the Lake, don’t serve any better? We don’t put fresh water on a higher pedestal? To whom do you kneel?

  2. Matt, if you care to have a real conversation and not just pen some cute lines, let me know. Yes, I know some farmers. In fact, I was raised in rural NW Ohio, hoeing soy beans and sugar beets, baling hay and cleaning out cow barns. Funny thing, in that day we could buy all the milk, meat and eggs we needed– no lines or empty shelves at the grocery store– without a single CAFO on the land. But there were lots more family farmers with livestock then. Anybody who wants to get into this debate really needs to look beyond the BS put out by the Farm Bureau, which doesn’t protect the interests of all farmers, just the ones who need political protection so they can keep using Lake Erie as a toilet. We know, for example, that commercial fertilizer usage has dropped dramatically, but CAFO waste can’t be gotten rid of quick enough. This isn’t a fight between farmers and environmentalists, but it IS a fight between people concerned about the lake and an industry that’s destroying both traditional family farms and our lake.

    • Mike, first thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. I really do appreciate it. I also appreciate your rural NW Ohio background and work with farms and the resulting insights you surely have about agriculture. These connections to our food are so important. You are absolutely correct that there was a time when there were very few large farms supplying our food. But, since that time, technology, research, science, improving management practices, and economics have brought about tremendous change in every sector of our global economy, including agriculture. Larger farms have resulted to best provide high quality, nutritious and affordable food. The CAFOs and the family farms you refer to are the same thing. Family farms have, out of economic and sustainable necessity, gotten larger and society has benefited as a result of the increased efficiency, specialization and improved animal/plant care that have accompanied this change. The baling hay, hoeing beans and cleaning of cow barns you remember from yesteryear absolutely should be remembered fondly, but so is the ’57 Chevy. Yet, you will find very few of those nostalgic old cars are being driven today because they are inefficient, impractical and not sustainable in today’s society. It is the same with food production and the same farms you remember have changed in their size and scope, but not in their care for all of their resources, including water quality. Farmers of all sizes understand that Mike Ferner cares about water quality, but it seems that you do not seem to understand that farms care about water quality just as much, if not more than you. These same farms you are so quick to criticize have invested large amounts of their own money, countless hours and a constantly evolving business plan seeking to minimize environmental impacts to try to address the problem for which they are partly (but only partly) to blame. This is a problem that is not fully understood by anyone (including you) and my article seeks to point out that your “fight” really is made up entirely of people who really do care about water quality. This is the point of my “cute” lines. I appreciate that you care about water quality. I hope you can learn to appreciate that farms of all sizes really care about water quality too and have repeatedly put their time and money on line to back it up.
      Thanks again for you comments.
      -Matt Reese

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