All of our small, individual actions add up.
If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that we are not helpless. That our collective actions, in those times when we move together we can at least alter the course of events that otherwise would be beyond our control.
Unfortunately, there are frighteningly few issues upon which we seem to be able to move in unison. But in those places where we at least share similar values, Michiganders have shown they can move mountains.
Maybe that’s why we are hopeful for the future of our lakes. It’s nearly impossible to find someone in our region who doesn’t like, value, cherish, or, most often, love our lakes. They are the places that drew us to this home, and pull us back if we leave.
It hurts us all when our lakes suffer.
And they are suffering.
More frequent blooms of toxic algae in northern Michigan inland lakes during the past few years is unsettling to say the least. Most of us probably perceived those bursts of blue-green algae that turn our freshwater lakes toxic as something sequestered to the lower Midwest, and more shallow, warm bodies of water. After all, the most publicized outbreaks during the past decade have been ones that tainted Lake Erie and caused officials in Toledo, Ohio to shut off pumps that draw drinking water from the lake.
The blooms can sicken or kill both people and pets, and render parts of lakes inaccessible because of associated health risks.
Yet, here we are, ending a year filled with unforeseen events, learning about yet another development we once believed wouldn’t arrive in our back yard. But at least when it comes to the health of our lakes, we aren’t helpless.
All three factors scientists say contribute to the blue-green algae’s march north — climate change, invasive species and septic runoff — are in some way or another affected by us. And it’s likely we could move the needle to circumvent or slow progression of at least some of those ingredients for the looming toxic storm.
Let’s face it, climate change is a problem of near unimaginable scope, yet we all have our role to play in combating it. Our lakes are warming, along with our climate, and they will become warmer, more welcoming to this awful algae problem. Likewise, invasive mussels are in many of our lakes, and will persist, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help slow their spread to new places by taking precautions like cleaning boats carefully.
That third ingredient in the toxic algae mix on the other hand is one loud, unified messages from us all could address quickly.
Septic leakage and fertilizer runoff into lakes has a profound impact on algae blooms, toxic or otherwise. And Michigan’s nonexistent regulatory oversight on septic systems — we live in the only state in the nation without statewide septic regulations — has become a disaster in the works.
We simply can’t rely on luck to keep unmaintained and deteriorating septic systems from seeping sewage into our lakes. And until we are willing to do something about it, together, problems like toxic algae will continue as a growing wound we inflict on our beloved lakes.
This year has shown us time and again we can address massive problems if we find common ground and work together.
Facing this problem, the health of our lakes, because above all, our affection for them is the one thing we all seem to be able to agree upon.