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Mayors summit says keep Great Lakes drinking water safe

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Several Great Lakes mayors want stronger and faster action to keep Great Lakes drinking water safe.

A drinking water summit was held this week in Chicago, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

Nicola Crawhall, deputy director of the initiative, said the meeting was triggered by the August shutdown of Toledo Ohio's drinking water system. The water was contaminated by microcystin toxins.

"We felt that was a watershed moment, if you like," said Crawhall.

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins called it the canary in the coal mine, particularly in the western basin of Lake Erie.

Crawhall said there were no common standards to guide Toledo's mayor. "There wasn't even agreement on not only how to respond but how to measure – you know, what kind of test and what kind of test result would require shutting down or, even after it was shut down, opening up again the water system," she said.

The group wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a standard limit and emergency protocol for microcystins in drinking water, according to Crawhall.  She said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy attended the summit and committed to work on this. 

Crawhall said the summit also asked state and local governments to keep phosphorous out of lakes and streams. Many fertilizers contain phosphorous – which feeds the growth of large blooms of cyanobacteria.

While attending the summit, McCarthy unveiled the second phase of the federal government's initiative to restore and protect the Great Lakes. The second phase of the initiative, which was begun in 2010, will be implemented in fiscal years  2014 through 2019 and will focus on:

  • Cleaning up Great Lakes areas of concern
  • Preventing and controlling invasive species
  • Reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful/nuisance algal blooms
  • Restoring habitat to protect native species

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom