-- By Ron Prosek
Senator Rob Portman called the recent algae drinking water crisis in Toledo a “wake up call.” Ya think?
Yes, that’s quite an understatement. What if this algal bloom had affected water intakes in the central Lake Erie basin (Northeast Ohio area)? A million, perhaps two million people could be without drinking water. Responding to the Toledo crisis, bottled water from all over the region was diverted to the Toledo area distribution centers. That was for 400,000 people. How well could drinking water needs be met in Northeast Ohio for two million people in such an emergency?
Consider this. July was the tenth coolest July on record in the Cleveland area (central Lake Erie basin), and August, at least the first half, has also been relatively cool. What if July and August had been among the ten warmest Julys and Augusts on record? The algal bloom could well have been a problem here. Remember, the climate trend has been for warmer seasons, so this summer, we may have dodged a bullet that we won’t be able to dodge next year.
I have read many letters and op/ed pieces in the Plain Dealer and elsewhere about what happened in Toledo. While many discussed short-term solutions, like better equipping our drinking water treatment plants, very few touched on the roots of the problem or on a big picture view of all the factors involved in this problem.
Many writers discussed phosphorous run-off from farms, and certainly that is a major problem, but I am troubled by the use of the word “farms.” Most of these are not the farms of the Old MacDonald variety – a small farm owned and operated by a single family. Most of these are industrialized agribusinesses owned and operated by corporations. Some writers did mention agribusinesses, but no one described their nature and methods of operation in any detail.
These agribusinesses (let’s not call them farms), are involved in monoculture crop production. For example, they might typically grow GMO corn in large fields, using vast amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. Now here is a key question: Is this corn going to be food for people? The answer is “no.” Most, if not virtually all of this corn is going to feed animals for meat and dairy production.
It’s the meat and dairy that is going to feed people, and we Americans eat vast amounts of meat and dairy. The result: we are fat and unhealthy and quite likely to suffer cardiovascular diseases and/or diabetes sooner or later. At the same time, our voracious meat appetites, besides helping to drive fertilizer run-off going into Lake Erie, are driving another activity—feedlots for beef and hogs.
What are these feedlots like? Steers and hogs are typically fed monoculture GMO corn while they stand in relatively confined fenced-in areas. In many of these lots you will see hundreds of animals packed together, standing in their own feces. This manure gets washed away by rain and ends up in streams that eventually empty into Lake Erie. This manure, like the phosphorous in fertilizer, is a powerful nutrient for algae.
Let’s look at the big picture and consider ALL the factors that are creating the algae problems in Lake Erie: Americans’ voracious consumption of meat and dairy AND to feed that appetite, monoculture GMO corn and soybeans grown on vast tracts of land owned and operated by agribusiness corporations that use vast amount of fertilizers and pesticides.
As reported in the Plain Dealer, when the Ohio General Assembly considered tightening regulations to restrict run-off from these corporate agribusinesses, lobbyists from these corporations intervened and made sure the regulations were so weakened as to be almost meaningless. This is nothing new. Oil and gas corporations do the same thing in Columbus. Their lobbyists also make sure that fracking keeps rolling merrily along in Ohio along with the dumping of toxic and radioactive frack waste into our landfills and the injection of toxic frack waste into the ground beneath our feet in Class II injection wells.
Do you think that these poisons just stay in the landfills and in the geology into which they are injected? Think again. Landfills leak and leach their contents into ground water. Geology underground is not static. Geologists have told us that fluids underground are constantly on the move. Therefore, eventually, some of these toxic fluids could well end up in Lake Erie.
Chief Seattle is reported to have said, “What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.” He also said, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” We need to look at the big picture—including our absolute dependence on healthy natural systems. We need to look at the roots of our problems with safe drinking water. The Toledo water crisis—a wake up call? Absolutely!
We need to address the roots of the problems before they overwhelm us. We need to curb our voracious meat appetites. We need to institute mandatory changes in agriculture. We need to turn away from massive monoculture of GMO corn and soybeans. We also need to turn away from fracking oil and gas and from ALL fossil fuels as quickly as possible if we are to avoid frying planet earth—the only home we have. An essential step in this effort is to rein in corporations. We need to end their stranglehold over our government. Challenging? Yes, but it is a challenge that we must meet.
Concerning Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, which contain twenty percent of ALL the fresh water on earth, if we cannot safeguard them, then I hold little hope for the future. But if we truly heed the Toledo algae bloom “wake-up call,” and address all of the root causes of our environmental recklessness, then we can enjoy a healthy future without any more drinking water crises and other similar human-caused “natural” disasters.
Ron Prosek, Convener of FaCT – Faith Communities Togetherfor Frack Awareness
7439 Case Avenue
Mentor, OH 44060