By Mason Montante and Meredith Georger
Imagine this: A few years from now you will reminisce. You might tell stories of times when you explored, swam and fished the shores of Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, and your children ask: “Why can’t I swim in the lake? Why can’t we eat the fish we caught?”
At that point … good luck explaining to your 5-year-old kid “Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, make the shoreline fouled, discolored and unhealthy to swim in. Oh, and by the way, contact with cyanobacteria can cause eye, nose, skin and throat irritation, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, one thing yer Mom’s certainly had enough of!”
The deterioration of the water quality and biodiversity in the Great Lakes is ongoing and, without action, your kids will ask you why we haven’t addressed these pollution-related problems. Thankfully, New Yorkers spoke loud and clear on Nov. 8, passing the 2022 Bond Act in support of protecting and restoring the climate, waters, ecosystems and lands of New York.
This funding can’t come soon enough for the Great Lakes, and the 2022 Bond Act’s funds could provide a remarkable opportunity for enhanced restoration and protection of the environment of Western New York’s freshwater ecosystems.
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is an incredible organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of Western New York’s waterways. They connect people to their waterways and therefore inspire community engagement. Over the course of three decades, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s arduous actions revived the Buffalo River, and they continue their tireless restorative efforts today.
"There is no shortage of need for the failing and outdated infrastructure in our Western New York communities, and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is a strong supporter of the historic New York State Environmental Bond Act, which will provide much-needed funding for our region," said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. "We must prioritize New York as a Great Lakes state, as well as support the investments that are required to protect and sustain this globally significant natural resource."
An engaged and active group of Skidmore College students founded the New Yorkers for Enhanced Restoration of the Great Lakes (NYERGL), an unregistered nonprofit organization advocating for the use of 2022 Bond Act funds for protecting the Great Lakes bioregion. We’ve already developed a grassroots campaign to persuade our family members and fellow students to successfully pass the Bond Act, and now our goal is to ensure that adequate funding is allocated toward the Great Lakes to ensure their restoration, conservation and protection.
NYERGL has developed the “Restore the Shore” petition (https://www.change.org/restoretheshore) to hereby pressure the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and newly elected Gov. Hochul to ensure Bond Act funds are adequately allocated to protecting our fantastic Great Lakes.
The 2022 Bond Act allows New York state to fund innovative environmental protection initiatives. Since we passed the Bond Act, New York state now has permission to sell bonds to investors. These investors ﬁnancially back the bond, and this funding supports the bond’s goal for environmental protection, enhancing clean water and air, mitigating climate change, reducing inflation, and creating green jobs (100,000 jobs!) in order to boost the struggling post-COVID-19 economy. According to the New Yorkers for Clean Water & Jobs, $4.2 billion of investments will soon become available to support environmental needs in New York, including Lake Erie.
According to the NYS DEC, alarming toxic algae blooms disrupt Lake Erie for swimming, and polluted/contaminated waters makes the consumption of Great Lake fish dangerous. Further, the DEC noted that the health of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario is poor and worsening. Western New York’s freshwater is threatened by nutrient and bacterial pollution from agricultural runoff, habitat loss, loss of native species, increases of invasive species, and chemical contamination from farming pesticides, urban runoff, factory discharge pipes, and sewage plants. Pollution from these not only kills native species and contaminates wildlife habitat, but also poses a threat to human health.
According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, over 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enter the Great Lakes annually, while 40 million people rely on the lakes for drinking water, thus impacting the health of New York citizens, especially those living in marginalized communities.
Additionally, the NYS Department of Health stated that fisherfolk risk chemical exposure to PCBs, dioxin and mirex, if they consume fish from the Great Lakes. Over time, these chemicals build up within the body and result in a heightened risk of cancer and birth defects. The Department of Health recommends avoiding the consumption of Great Lakes fish or at least limiting the quantity of fish consumed per month. As such, marginalized communities have been denied access to fish, and clean air and water. Bond Act funds directed toward the Great Lakes region will help to alleviate these environmental injustices. And thankfully, 35% of Bond Act funds are mandated toward supporting marginalized and disadvantaged communities.
Here, we also note that aquatic invasive species, like zebra mussels, negatively affect native vegetation, fish and animals. Additionally, these mussels can cripple crucial economic streams of revenue, like the tourism, boating and fishing industries.
Invasives affect the habitat of native species and result in loss of biodiversity and the support systems for the balanced equilibrium of an ecosystem.
The Great Lakes have also been threatened by climate change. An increase in storms, storm intensity, and extreme weather events has caused flooding and damage to shorelines and lakeside communities; this is a complex issue that must be addressed, and enhanced funding from the 2022 Bond Act toward the Great Lakes will help communities to adapt to climate change, as well as help to mitigate the sources of greenhouse gas emissions if funds are directed toward advancing renewable energy projects in the region.
The simultaneous restoration of our climate and Great Lakes is possible!
Enhanced restoration, conservation and protection of New York’s freshwater will ensure safe drinking water, unrestricted swimming, recreation and healthy, pollutant-free habitat for animals and humans.
Public opinion matters. Your opinion matters. And your voice can help to make a difference. Please sign our petition calling on the DEC and Gov. Hochul to provide enhanced Bond Act funding to the protection of the Great Lakes. Our petition link is located here: https://www.change.org/restoretheshore.