Last summer, 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio, were without drinking water after a poisonous algae bloom in Lake Erie contaminated the city’s water supply.
For two days, residents could not drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the tap water. Boiling the polluted water was also out of the question, as it would increase the concentration of toxins. Ingesting the noxious water could cause vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, cramps, and other health issues.
Earlier this month, Environment Minister Glen Murray warned that if immediate action was not taken to protect the Great Lakes, Ontarians could face a similar crisis.
“The scientists are now saying we are getting close to a turning point,” Murray said to reporters at a press conference last month. “If we don’t get better data, if we don’t figure out how to intervene and we don’t do it quickly, the damage is going to be irreversible.”
Murray has proposed new legislation to protect the Great Lakes, which provides safe drinking water to more than 80 percent of Ontario residents. The proposed Great Lakes Protection Act would reduce harmful algae blooms, protect wetlands and coastal areas; monitor and report on biodiversity, climate change, invasive species and acidity levels; and establish a Great Lakes Guardian Council comprised of multiple stakeholders, including conservation authorities.
“[The act] will actually bring people together…to actually start to integrate things like the Source Water Protection Act and the conservation authorizes – to bring everybody together to manage different parts of it,” said Murray.
In the past five years, two similar acts have yet to pass.
Murray said that of all the Great Lakes, the most stressed is Lake Ontario. Manufacturing industries and dense populations surrounding the body of water has taken its toll. This is especially problematic as more than 95 percent of Ontario’s agricultural land is in the Great Lakes basin.
So far, several environmental organizations such as Ecojustice, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Environmental Defence have supported the bill.
Terry Rees, the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, praised the legislation in an official statement.
“As a uniquely watery jurisdiction, Ontario has both the incredible legacy, and the obligation, to steward the waters of the Great lakes basin for the continued prosperity of our communities, and for the restorative powers of our lakes and rivers.”