70s Science Lets Erie Down

70s Science Lets Erie Down

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  1. The frustrating thing about science, boys and girls, is that so much of it is theory that in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years or later can be proven wrong. How many times have we seen it happen? How many theories in use just decades ago seem archaic and just plain wrong? That’s the risk of running with your scientific mind, and the reason that no matter what direction you take, it match up with your morals.

    In the 1970s, scientists were waging a war against nutrients. That’s right. Food. More specifically, phosphorous. It was killing the fish and plant life in Lake Erie. In 1968, the fourth  largest Great Lake was pronounced "dead". It didn’t take long for resurrection efforts to find a following.

    In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in part to clean up Lake Erie. Agreements with Canada also worked to limit the amount of phosorous allowed to reach the lake, but nearly four decades of prevention hasn’t cleared up dead zones in the lake. This concern has been studied in-depth by Chris Pennuto, biology professor of the Buffalo State College Great Lakes Center.

    "Huge algal mats still cover much of the lake bottom, and they shouldn’t be there," says Pennuto. The algae creates problems for human and animal alike, but the question isn’t if it’s harmful but why the problem is still there.

    In the 1970s, explains Pennuto, scientists believed Lake Erie operated like a giant bathtub. By that reasoning, preventing the dumping of phosphorous into the waters would have cut down on algae production and removed harmful properties over time. "We know now that’s not an accurate description of how Lake Erie works," he says. In fact, most of the phosphorous ‘oisoning Lake Erie back in the day is still there, sleeping in sentiment along the bottom and being frequently dredged up by activity and random currents to create more problems.

    Despite all that’s happening, the destination is home to handfuls of islands popular among vacationers and fisherman. And the destruction doesn’t stop the largest fishery in the United States from operating within the lake’s shores. Though run with incredible oversight, the Ontario Fishery is a subject of hot debate among differing factions of sport and commercial fishermen.

    New legislation prevents any of the Great Lakes from being drained for the sake of lands faraway, but it’s unclear whether the health of Lake Erie will be protected from future industry and tourism. Let’s just hope our scientific guidelines of today meet up with our moral obligations.

    [photo: PR Newswire]

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