Lake Erie Bill of Rights | Michigan Radio
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Lake Erie Bill of Rights

A cyanobacterial bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The city of Toledo has withdrawn an appeal that challenged a ruling on the Lake Erie Bill of Rights’ constitutionality. Federal judge Jack Zouhary declared the bill of rights unconstitutional back in February, calling it “unconstitutionally vague” and said it “exceed[ed] the power of municipal government in Ohio.” 

The bill was approved by Toledo voters in a special election in 2019, where it passed with 61 percent of the vote. The bill states that Lake Erie, as well as the Lake Erie watershed, possesses the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”

Lake Erie at Massie Cliffside Preserve.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

An Ohio judge has declared the Lake Erie Bill of Rights to be unconstitutional. Judge Jack Zouhary called his decision “not even close” and declared the bill invalid in its entirety.

The bill was approved by Toledo voters in a special election in 2019, passing with 61 percent of the vote. It was immediately challenged by the Drewes Farm Collective, who said that LEBOR was a liability to its business. Drewes Farms says it fertilizes its fields “pursuant to Ohio law, best practices, [and] scientific recommendations,” but it can never guarantee that all of its runoff can be prevented from entering the Lake Erie watershed. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

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Credit: NOAA derived image from EUMETSAT Copernicus Sentinel-3a satellite dat / NOAA

The state of Ohio has stepped into a court battle over whether Lake Erie has legal rights. 

In February, Toledo voters approved the charter amendment by a large margin. The amendment claims city residents have the legal right to protect Lake Erie.

Toledo lies on the shore of the western part of the lake, which is plagued with cyanobacterial blooms, largely caused by fertilizer runoff from farms. In 2014, the city of Toledo briefly shut down its water system, after its Lake Erie water intake was surrounded by a bloom of toxic cyanobacterial.

Stefania and Mirek Czech
Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Toledo voters have approved a charter amendment giving Lake Erie legal rights by a large margin, 9,867 to 6,211. 

Turnout in the special election, which also included a referendum on whether to keep the city's jail downtown, was 8.9% of registered voters.

The charter amendment purports to allow any city resident to sue to protect the lake.