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Groups Ask Court for Help in Preventing Lake Erie from Turning to 'Pea Soup'

June 10, 2010

TOLEDO, Ohio - Some environmental and small business groups in Ohio say they'll go to court to keep Lake Erie from turning into what might be best described as a giant bowl of split-pea soup. They claim that's what they are seeing more often as a result of so-called "open-water" dumping of dredged sediments that can exacerbate the growth of harmful algae blooms on the lake, harming fish and their habitat.

The groups, led by the National Wildlife Federation, are challenging a certification that allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dump up to 800,000 cubic yards of sediment into the Western Basin of Lake Erie. Rick Unger is president of the Lake Erie Charterboat Association, one of the groups involved in the suit.

"When we're driving our boats in the summertime through Lake Erie, we sometimes run through patches that it's actually like driving through pea soup. You look back in your wake, and all you see is green being churned in your wake."

Sandy Bihn, Western Lake Erie waterkeeper, says she has seen a marked increase in open-lake dumping since the early 1990s.

"That decreases water quality and decreases the amount of aquatic habitat, and threatens the lake again as it was in the 70s.

Bihn says the dumping also affects Ohio's drinking water supply.

"The algae and the turbidity increase the cost for cities of Toledo, Oregon and other places, in terms of what it costs them to treat the water because of the increased algae in the water."

The action by conservation groups comes after both the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Natural Resources voiced opposition to open-lake dumping. The Army Corps says the practice is a practical part of maintaining the Toledo harbor, but the groups involved in the suit say there are other, less damaging ways to do so.

Amy Miller/Lori Abbott, Public News Service - MI