Thriving waters face threats

Zen Olow, right, Chautauqua County Fishery Board chairman, weighs a catch from Roger Corlett’s boat.

Big boats and important people took to the waters earlier this week for the Chautauqua & Erie County Sports Fishery Advisory Boards 2017 Lake Erie Experience. In its ninth year, the Wednesday event was by far the largest, drawing more than 150 including elected officials from Chautauqua and Erie counties as well as a few national outdoor writers.

Starting at the Holiday Harbor at Chadwick Bay, guests began arriving around 6 Wednesday morning and departed for the lake shortly after 7 on vessels that are part of the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. Despite some unsettling moments in terms of rough morning waters, it was a picture-perfect day to showcase our natural treasure.

Those to our West, however, are not in the same boat.

With the industrial revolution and its contamination of the waters in the past, there are new threats the lake faces on a daily basis. Near Toledo, Ohio, algal blooms could be the third largest on record since NASA began aerial surveillance in 2002, according to the Toledo Blade.

Those blooms appear more in the western portion of the lake due to the shallow waters there. Rich Davenport, an Erie County advisory board member who annually gives numbers on tourism and economy, this year spoke on threats to the ecosystem during the lunch portion of the day at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club. He told of the frustrations and problems that come with the potentially toxic masses.

“They’re suffering,” he said of the western basin. “They’re seeing a lot of their business go out because it’s not very sightly, it’s certainly stinky and can be dangerous to pets and your own health.”

Because of the blooms, those who want to fish hook up with charter boats there that take them 20 to 25 miles from the shoreline to get away from the potential toxins. Dunkirk’s harbor, however, is lucky to not face those problems.

That does not mean we’re in the clear.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico grabbed worldwide attention. More than 300 million gallons of crude oil flowed into the gulf in what many considered to be one of the greatest environmental disasters of our time.

Davenport begs to differ. We don’t drink water from the gulf. We don’t irrigate the crops and we don’t use that water to do laundry, wash cars or do dishes using that water.

We do, however, use fresh water for all these items.

So what’s one of the biggest threat’s to the Great Lakes today? Raw sewage.

Davenport said about 24 billion gallons goes into the Great Lakes each year. Those numbers, he said, could be on the low side as some estimates report 42 billion gallons.

“That’s an environmental disaster that’s been going on for decades,” he said.

His message’s timing is nearly perfect. About two weeks ago a sewage discharge in Niagara Falls brought international attention and an unwanted black eye. Davenport thinks it’s time we do something about the constant dumping into the waters.

It begins with the infrastructure and the wastewater treatment systems, which are sorely out of date. “We have kicked this can down the road for decades,” Davenport said.

If the antiquated systems are not upgraded — or rebuilt — it could be a huge risk to the future of our waters and society.

“This is the water we drink,” he said, ” … and I think it’s about time that we all collectively as a group of conservationists, both from the state level and the local level start, pushing to federal level to get this done.”

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to or call 366-3000, ext. 401.