Who do you trust with your drinking water? The free market, or government?

Garrett Hardin wrote “The Tragedy of the Commons” in 1968, but he could have been writing about the contamination of drinking water for a half-million people around Toledo this month. Rational people have acted in a self-interested way that harms the community as a whole. Excess phosphorus, mainly from farming practices, is stimulating algal blooms that are a toxic contaminant to human drinking water.

Lake Erie has been through this before. In the 1970s it was being choked by algal blooms, but better treatment of sewage and regulation of phosphates in detergents brought it back to better health.

In case you missed the obvious point: The free market didn’t bring you those solutions. Those were government actions. We had reached the point where we had to act collectively for the sake of any sane notion of a future.

So, how do you feel about that? Do you miss your phosphate-rich Tide of the 1970s on laundry day? Does your sense of freedom feel suffocated?

I ask because five years ago Erick Erickson of Red State blog wrote about regulation of phosphate detergents in the state of Washington this way: “At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?”

Granted that Erickson seems to be more pugilist than thinker, but I surmise the absolutist mentality he espouses is one of the reasons we have so much trouble addressing conflicts in the commons.

Management of sewage and storm runoff are certainly ancillary problems in Lake Erie’s 2014 algal blooms, but science is pointing at agriculture as the principal problem today. Runoff of phosphorous fertilizer and livestock waste applied to frozen or snow-covered fields are the sources feeding algal blooms that are a threat to the life of Lake Erie and its surrounding residents.

The agriculture industry attempted to get out front of the problems by saying that farmers could implement voluntary corrections. But as Lana Pollack of the International Joint Commission wrote in the Detroit Free Press, “Many well-meaning programs to reduce farmland pollution are voluntary. That leaves responsible farmers to foot the bill for doing their share of pollution avoidance, and leaves bad actors free to spread phosphorous-rich fertilizer and animal waste during cold-weather months when much of it sloughs into public waters with spring thaws and downpours.”

That means that responsible farmers will do the right thing, and irresponsible farmers should be compelled to do so. That is the way it has to be. That is not government overreach. That is the responsibility of government.

The fact is that we humans are too numerous, too industrious and far too consumptive of energy and materials to just buy and sell in a marketplace and let the chips fall where they will. We are capable of industrial-scale damage to the home we share and no free rider should have the right to extract wealth while ignoring the cost of damage done to us all. Otherwise, you can look forward to a very unhealthy future for the great many of us.

Tragedies of the commons such as Toledo’s drinking water and the chemical alteration of our atmosphere and oceans are among the greatest challenges of civilization in our time. We have to be able to manage human impacts on the environment intra-nationally and internationally, or decreasing numbers will have a life worth living. Because China now emits more carbon dioxide than America doesn’t mean we should just continue to pursue a dead-end energy policy. Because yields and profits can be driven higher by environmentally irresponsible farm practices doesn’t mean we should allow it.

Your right to pollute ends at the collective right to drinkable water.

And that brings us to politics: how we do, or do not, get things done in the public interest. Freedom absolutists brandish Ayn Rand’s big books of fairy tales like so many Red Guards with their little red books during the Cultural Revolution. The ideological fervor is like a religion. The anger is consuming. The results are a stagnant economy for all but the wealthiest few.

The unfettered market is not the answer to all of civilization’s problems, despite what the loudest political bullhorn has to say. Politics that are bent on destroying the government just might succeed. Who protects the commons then?

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Comments

Leon L. Hulett, PE
Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:51pm
Rich, Your general tone seems inflammatory to me, highly emotional and too driven. This is the same tone I heard when I was in court one day on a similar environmental issue. My sister-in-law had called and said my brother was in jail. He needed bail to get out. We got him out of jail and heard his story. He is a diabetic and they had taken away all his medical materials and refused to allow him to take his insulin. By morning his blood sugar was 425. That is dangerously high and out of control. He had defended himself and been convicted on 15 counts of environmental violations, given a fine, time to comply, thrown in jail, and was being summoned to court to explain, 'Why he should not be held In Contempt of Court.' So, I went to court with him, as his Environmental Engineer and helped him. The DNR (and Judge) in and out of court, had the same overly emotional tone you have in this commentary. Their Engineer said the water and soils contained toxic material that would cause cancer. In short, one by one, I showed the court and the DNR that each one of the charges was false. The water met their own drinking water standards according to their own test data. The soils met their standards. The number tires met their criteria as counted by their own people. It had all been false all along. The judge finally and quietly said, 'You win,' and got up to leave the court room with no further word. We had showed that all the charges were false. My brother said the three DNR people there looked like they had been kicked in the stomach. Two years of agony, and life threatening situations, were finally at an end. There was no apology for the false charges, the fascist actions the DNR had requested and the court had authorized them to do in this case. Eight years before this court case I had given my brother a bag of cellulose fibers stocked with bacteria that love to eat grease and oils, and told my brother and his wife how to use it. She raked the soil where oils or grease had spilled, let air into the soil, and the bacteria had eaten it all up. She said you could see a clean sand spot form in the center of a large black area and the clean area would spread out and in about 3 to 6 months the entire area was clean. The area now also contained dormant bacteria that were proof against any future contamination. He had changed his methods, and allowed no such materials on his property. The DNR had not noticed some things that actually did not meet their criteria. I wrote up handing instructions for my brother and he posted them and was in fact in full compliance. The DNR had not used normal sampling techniques. They chose very carefully, exact spots expected to be the worst case, where they took samples. The sampling was not valid. But nevertheless, their own test data showed that the water and soils were excellent. They met drinking water standards, not just recreational or agricultural water criteria. So your question is, 'Who do you trust with your drinking water? The free market, or government?' Despite the slant of your article giving only your two well crafted choices, my answer is 'responsible, informed citizens that want to do the right thing with the information and technology available to them.' By the way, these standards the DNR uses were changed not too long ago. The underlying assumption was 1 cancer death in 1 million people at one time. Then they were changed to 1 cancer death in 100,000 people is now acceptable. That is for 'each' of the toxins, not the combination of all those present. You say, 'The fact is that we humans are too numerous...' Just what does that mean to you? You say, 'Tragedies of the commons such as Toledo’s drinking water... among the greatest challenges of civilization in our time.' I know of no deaths to this event in Toledo. I know of no liver hemorrhages due to this. I know of no inhalation problems do to this. I know of no skin irritation due to this. In fact test results from Sunday in the Toledo water supply were all less than 1 micro-gram per liter. When I design a system for clean water in the environmental industry I use two systems. The first cleans any pollutant. We check the clean water after the first system till it comes through. Then we change the first system to a new clean system. The water flow then goes to the second system back to first. There is always a 'fail safe' system the water flows through no matter what. I don't know that the Toledo system is designed on this principle but I would be surprised if it was not. I think you are over stating this issue. Why? Who gains by this?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sat, 08/16/2014 - 9:49pm
As best I can tell Toledo's treatment systems are effective. They use ozone and carbon systems. Their testing systems and routines have this one defect. They rely on the EPA or other sources to advise them when a plume of blue-green algae has moved too close, and they then begin testing. They begin testing for microcystin-LR voluntarily when notified. Apparently they were not notified just prior to this last breakthrough in time. When they did test, it was easily detected and easily eliminated ($11,000 per month). I understand the levels had gone to 3.6 micrograms per liter on Saturday. By Sunday they were down. I believe they should have their own connection to satellite data on the plumes so they can make their own decisions on how close they are and what that means. The EPA could still notify, but that would not be the only source of decision making. The WHO study that sets the guidelines for microsystin-LR abatement in the world, uses mouse, rat and pig animal studies. The studies include drinking water and injection pathways. The microcystine-LR levels that caused problems for drinking water were 100 times higher than the ones for injection. The mouse studies use 80 percent ingestion by water and the rest by injection to attain the level for the study. So these methods are very conservative, using 20 percent of the intake that is 100 times more toxic. Then the WHO said the guidelines for human drinking water, will be 1000 times less than these mouse studies with water and injection, and then they confirmed that level with pigs. So the 1 microgram per liter level is amazingly conservative, and the 3.6 tests results in Toledo were miniscule, in my opinion. No person in the world has died, or been confirmed to have died from this toxin, microcystin-LR. From ingesting the algae, yes. It seems to me that studies with human liver cells could assess safe levels for this toxin that are are more meaningful than just saying we should use a factor of 1000 here. 1 part per billion is very likely ultra-conservative for the amount of attention drawn to to these safety issues. The source of this toxin is from the byproducts of the blue-green algae growing in the plumes. Blue green algae is sold in food stores, at least one species is. I believe the blue-green algae could be harvested and used for food, or animal feed or fertilizer. At least this seems a real possibility. If it were harvested for a useful purpose it may be possible that it would not be present to be a threat to cities on Lake Erie. I'm not saying that this blue-green algae idea is commercially viable. But I think it could be done and this would reduce the threat to cities and it would reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the lakes. It makes more sense than using a safety level that is at least 1000 times conservative for microcystin-LR. Best regards, Leon
mo
Wed, 01/17/2018 - 8:47am

ok

kincaid
Sat, 08/16/2014 - 9:51pm
Leon, if the toxic Toledo water was not such a big deal, why did they bring in clean water from other states and regions? Who paid for the water? Agriculture gets to damage the lake and the government has to fix it at the general taxpayers expense. I bet the bill for the temporary remediation of this problem was huge. It amounts to another farm subsidy.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 08/17/2014 - 2:50pm
kincaid August 16, 2014 at 9:51 pm 'Leon, if the toxic Toledo water was not such a big deal, why did they bring in clean water from other states and regions?' My personal opinion is that this 'Toledo water problem' is not a big deal. My opinion is that it was never a water problem, nor a safety concern, at all. But it did bring this 'issue' to international attention in the media. The World Health Organization created the guideline in question, which I understand as, '1 ppb microcystin-LR in drinking water and 10 ppb in recreational water.' This guideline is not for ingesting the bacteria, the bacteria that make the toxin, it is for this toxin only. I think this guideline is outlandishly conservative. I see no particular 'test' or 'shipping protocol' advised to precisely implement this guideline. They seem to have constructed their thinking with the toxicity data from internal injections of this toxin, instead of from drinking water containing this material. The data for injecting this material shows it to be 100 times more toxic than for drinking water containing this material. The data they did use seems to use drinking water for 80 percent of the content and something else possibly, injected material for the remaining content. So this seems to be way too conservative too me. Also, since no specific test or protocol is given, the local Toledo people did use Chlorine to preserve their samples sent for testing and this caused the confusing test results. I'm glad they have a new single test and better procedures now. I assume the new test is more accurate and thus the concern with more data. Even though the new data is below the detection limit of the old test, they wish to remove even that. So they delayed lifting the ban for 500,000 people and have put their carbon treatment system on-line. It is probably in-line after theie 'oxidation' system. This means they have to ask people to reduce their usage because they only have that limited carbon treatment capacity. If this issue is still important to anyone, we should have a more valid test that uses actual drinking water with this material in it, and does not use the WHO protocol used for their testing. I suggest a test of 100 mice, 100 rats, 100 rabbits, 100 chickens and 10 pigs drinking water at 100 ppb for 30 days. Then test their livers for any damage whatsoever. I think one could show there was no damage at all to these animals at this concentration. But this liver material could also be sent to determine the amount of accumulation of this material for this test. 100 chickens could be used as the controls to show they had no accumulations as well. Then increase the concentration in the drinking water to 250 ppb for another group. I think you might find the more sensitive animals would each have a certain amount of reactions in their livers at this level. Probably 20 percent of the mice and pigs might get some sort of damage at this level. I think non-invasive testing could be done, and the animals could be recovered (healed) from any damages. The intent here is not to incense PETA but to get some more valid test results. A recommendation could then go back to WHO, if it would be beneficial. I think these tests would recommend a screening level of 100 ppb for these animals. I think testing on death row humans would show no liver damage to humans at this level as well. These people could be offered 30 days of additional life to complete this testing.
Dedra Downs
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:33am
You're right, the companies should not need to be told by the EPA that they are out of compliance and have to correct the situation. The companies should already know and they should never get out of compliance in any of our water, whether its drinking water, water to swim in, or just beautiful water that the public likes to sit and watch. Stop making excuses for polluters.
Matt Roush
Sun, 08/17/2014 - 8:36am
Leon, you almost seem to be accusing Rich of advocating genocide (or at least hating humanity) when you state: "You say, ‘The fact is that we humans are too numerous…’ Just what does that mean to you?" You have to read the whole sentence... maybe the whole paragraph: "The fact is that we humans are too numerous, too industrious and far too consumptive of energy and materials to just buy and sell in a marketplace and let the chips fall where they will. We are capable of industrial-scale damage to the home we share and no free rider should have the right to extract wealth while ignoring the cost of damage done to us all. Otherwise, you can look forward to a very unhealthy future for the great many of us." In other words, humans are too numerous... to just buy and sell in a marketplace and let the chips fall, etc. I am sorry for what happened to your brother, that does sound like regulatory over-reach. But were there any news accounts of this situation? Seems odd enough that there might have been. When was this? Where was this? What was he accused of doing? Finally, it's quite possible the reason there were no deaths or illnesses from the water in Toledo was the government's action in issuing a drinking water ban. Problems avoided are always the toughest things to prove. And finally, who do I trust with my drinking water? Not a corporation whose primary, in some cases sole, concern is maximizing profit in the short term. I'd much rather trust it to a government I can vote out of office if they do a lousy job. It's not like I can have another set of plumbing installed in my house to get water from a competitor... and least not in the real, practical world.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 08/17/2014 - 5:44pm
Matt August 17, 2014 at 8:36 am Matt, I did read the whole sentence, the whole paragraph, the whole article. I simply asked a clarifying question, and Rich did not clarify. We do not live in a community, a city, a township, a county, a state, or country, or world where the chips just fall where they will, without a rule, a guideline, a policy, a constitution, or a law with a precedence, or a business pressure that likely applies. The premise is flawed. It is flawed in the direction of someone overstating the influence of a 'free rider' and understating the actual influences of all these layers of government on public safety. I did not accuse anyone of 'advocating genocide', but you did. Isn't this true? In my opinion: We do not have 'Too many people.' We are not 'too industrious.' We are not 'far too consumptive of energy and materials' I do agree, 'We are capable of industrial-scale damage to the home.' Would you agree, 'The ambitions of a tyranny are also capable of destruction to the home and to individual ambitions?' The chips do not just fall...we always have a social pressure going the other way. We always have social pressure, we have laws. We do have community governments, the city of Toledo, on and on, up the line to WHO at the international level insisting they know the right thing, for us to do. And you have individuals saying their opinions. My story about my brother is from about 18 years ago to 10 years ago in Wexford County, MI. It basically gives a very painful example of a situation created by Wexford County officials and DNR Engineers and Managers using 'a poor understanding of environmental testing procedures' to enable a 'the system' to harm an individual business. their arguments were all very plausible if one did not look too closely. My brother and I explained our situation to the State Police. The got back and said, 'We have to work with these people everyday. We can not help you.' They understood the situation exactly, and would not help. They did not even recommend to us to sue these people for the obvious Perjury present. They presented the case for layers of government and individuals that were unwilling to do the right thing. I have presented my opinion above on how this was brought about by the WHO guideline where they used incorrect assumptions and seemed to use a poor assessment of the data they had, and did not request a proper set of tests to be completed before they released their guideline. I do not have the resources personally to this testing. I understand that you and Rich believe that the layers of government we have should be believed and trusted and not questioned. That the power these layers have over our lives should be increased. I listened to Jefferson when he said, 'The cost of Freedom is eternal vigilance.' I think it is time for a change. That being said, I don't disagree the ethics of agriculture and business could be improved a lot, and that some do seem to strive for little more than 'money' as the bottom line. I worked for a number of years, as a Professional Engineer, providing these exact types of water cleaning systems and doing this type of testing. I could propose to Toledo, and provide additional carbon systems to meet their new demand. There could be sufficient new capacity to lower all drinking water to non-detect levels. But I think that is most extravagant. There could be enough to assure the quality of the maximum current flow rate, is reduced to below the guideline. But this testing is voluntary. No one has a legal criteria that says these tests even need to be done. I think this will just vanish as a safety issue in a few days. It will remain, probably, as an 'industrial-scale' tragedy that will be brought to mind frequently by you and Rich. I did point out the flaws in the WHO guidelines, but I would not expect anyone to bother doing the tests to prove the guideline is false, and to change it to a more rational level. As I said above, Michigan did change its basic assumption from 1 cancer in million to 1 in a hundred thousand, and that made most of the environmental work in Michigan vanish twenty years ago. If Toledo did the tests, and demonstrated 100 ppb was safe for human drinking water this problem would vanish. If that data was acceptable to WHO, the problem would vanish for the world. No Matt, I was not accusing Rich when I asked that question. When I sat down beside my brother in court, he was already convicted. The judge, the Prosecuting Attorney, the zoning board guy, the DNR team and the Sheriff were all completely convinced he was guilty. The State Police and the community were convinced. I was able to show those 15 accusations and 15 convictions were false. If I have no idea what convictions you and Rich have. I have to ask.
Rick
Sun, 08/17/2014 - 9:00am
Have private corporation handle (and profit from) our water? Like Comcast? Or BP? Or the Michigan prison food company? Those have all worked out so well. The algae bloom is Lake Erie trying to tell us something. We either hear it and do something or ignore it and court disaster. Again - didn't we have this conversation back in the 1970s? I guess we forget...
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 08/17/2014 - 6:07pm
Rick August 17, 2014 at 9:00 am What I hear is that nutrients in the lake are consumed by Blue-Green Algae. Harvesting the algae would remove the problem. If the algae stays in the lake, with this toxin within its body, then when it dies the toxin is absorbed by the water. Removing the algae when it is alive, removes the problem. Aristotle dreamt up the 'Water Cycle.' Water flows from the land to sea. Water evaporates from the sea to the clouds. The clouds flow over the land. Water rains down on the land. The 'Carbon Cycle' is quite similar. We could propose a new 'Nitrogen Cycle.' Bacteria takes nitrogen from the air and flows it to the soil water. Nitrogen and water flow from the land to the lake. Algae takes up nitrogen and carbon. Algae grows. The Algae is harvested and flows back to the land. What do you hear?
Charles Richards
Mon, 08/18/2014 - 3:45pm
Mr. Robinson is as guilty of simple-mindedness as Eric Erickson. He seems to be incapable of subtle thought, of thinking at the margin. No one denies the need for government as the title of his article seems to imply. He says, " The free market didn’t bring you those solutions. Those were government actions." Of course. That is the function of government, to prevent individuals from externalizing their costs, from impinging on other people. In the case of pollution, it is generally done with Pigovian taxes and/or regulations. It is a matter of degree, not either or. And there is an extremely good case to be made that some environmental regulations (existing and proposed) yield far too little benefit for the costs they impose. In the case of the Lake Erie algae, it is very likely that the only additional restrictions that are needed are those that prevent farmers from applying manure on frozen, or snow covered fields. It is not in the farmer's interest to apply more expensive fertilizer than is required to replace the nutrients that are lost each year. The manure is a problem because it is free. Mr. Robinson has maintained that campaign finance is the cause of our dysfunctional politics. It is not. The problem with our politics is the shrill shouting of black and white slogans; something that Mr. Robinson exemplifies.
Charles Richards
Mon, 08/18/2014 - 6:20pm
It was inappropriate for me to say that Mr. Robinson was "simple-minded", and for that I apologize.
Ken McFarlane
Mon, 08/18/2014 - 3:59pm
Just a general observation. It seems to me that no matter what the Bridge publishes there are instant attacks posted in the comments sections. These attack are in the form of comments often longer than the article itself and that usually favor business interests over governmental action to protect the public interest. I see this on Progressive sites I also read. I find myself wondering if there's a group of people paid to monitor and respond to internet sites, a Comment Squad, if you will. No, that can't be. I must be paranoid. Next thing you know I'll be ranting about how a few billionaires are spending hundreds of millions to control elections. There's nothing here to see, folks. Move on. Go look at people getting ice water in thrown on their head or cute cat pictures.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Mon, 08/18/2014 - 8:45pm
Ken McFarlane August 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm I've made some long comments, my personal opinions. I have some experience and expertise in this environmental area that I thought might be of interest to others. I work for no company, only my own interests. I am not paid to monitor anything. I guess I am just not smart enough to say my opinion in a few simple words. Regarding the commentaries I do follow, I have not noticed the kind of attacks you are talking about. I have seen a lot of pro-education, pro-union and pro-climate change views, I just assume that is the character of this site. I have seen far fewer views favoring business interests. There are very few favoring business interests at the expense of governmental action. I guess yours is pro-government action. If you view my comments here as pro-business over government action that is not true. I am just as critical of business articles. I am for effective action only. I see the government actions in this Toledo thing as needlessly causing hysteria. Terry Russeau says, 'the tainted water could cause diarrhea, vomiting and other problems.' After reading the WHO guidelines, I think she has no basis that I know of for saying that from her office to the public. That probably caused the hysteria. There are reports of people swimming in algae with 20,000 ppb of this material with no ill effects. No one in the world has died from this toxin. All this is all voluntary. Why stir people up like this? Why cause all this expense? Why treat the water to non-detect and ask people to conserve? Why not run some tests, by the government or by business, that demonstrates what the risks actually are? I see no businesses in this at all, accept being blamed. The water plants are city plants. It is all government stuff. That brings me back to you. You seem to complain of something that does not exist. Maybe you could point out some examples? It seems to me commentaries are meant to stimulate 'comments.' If there are 'Comment Squads' as you suggest, then I agree that is bad. I would like to know if they do exist.
Dedra Downs
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:38am
No, your excuses don't work for me, I don't care how much experience you have. I only need to see the algae blooms in the water to know that something is wrong and it needs to be corrected. Do you drink cups of algae blooms?
Dlb
Tue, 08/19/2014 - 8:36am
The articles tone is provocative, to stimulate discussion. But the comments became way too personal, with character attacks that take away from discussion of the issue. As noted by someone above, private industry is driven by the profit motive, unfortunately many in industry are increasingly focused just on short term profit and ignore cost to the greater community. The profit motive too often clouds the moral compass, regulation is the counter balance to that tendency. The question in the article is specifically about whether government regulation is needed to address the question of regulating agribusiness excesses that lead to increasing phosphorus levels in the lakes (that not only contaminate water but kill off fish). To that I would answere, yes, we need sensible regulation.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 08/19/2014 - 11:48pm
Dlb August 19, 2014 at 8:36 am From the data I can locate, none of the Great Lakes are in trouble, except Erie. Erie has three Basins, the East Basin is not in trouble. The water flows from West to East so the water is not in trouble when it leaves Lake Erie. The water seems to improve as it moves eastward. I'm guessing the algae either cleans it up somehow or drops it to the bottom. If 100 ppb represents 11000 metric tons of Phosphorus, then a drop from 58 ppf to 10 ppb as it passes Eastward may represent 52,800 mt of phosphorus dropping to the bottom as sediment. I think this might possibly mined. The data show the Western Basin is reducing without intervention, but it is high. I understand the objective is 15 ppb. The data show the Central Basin is not reducing. I understand the objective 15 ppb and 2009 data is 22.7 ppb. Lake Huron water meets the objective and flows into Erie greatly fouled. I believe local regulation in that specific area should be considered. It seems to me that high concentrations produces depleted oxygen zones in the Central Basin and the algae do not live well there and do not reduce the concentrations so well. By improving the circulation to and from these dead zones, life would return and I believe the phosphorus would drop out better as in the other living areas. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron combined water levels are about two feet lower than long term averages. Lake Erie is 16 feet higher than long term averages to my understanding. This means that a much larger amount of water (and phosphorus) is flowing into Erie and staying there, as the water level stays higher. I understand this increase in flow is a very long term matter. But there was Army Corps of Engineers dredging from 1958 to 1962 that allowed for larger and deeper ships. This increased the flow more rapidly than the long term increase previously. The data show that concentration in Erie started a new linear increasing trend in 1992. Starting at an acceptable 7 ppb and surpassing the 10 ppb objective in 1995 and increasing thereafter. I'm guessing the increased loading of additional thousands of metric tons of phosphorus per year to Erie has overloaded the natural capacity of the Central Basin. I understand a regulation to reduce the high flow rate from Huron to Erie might solve the problem and return both lakes to their long term normal levels. You say, 'The question in the article is specifically about whether government regulation is needed to address the question of regulating agribusiness excesses that lead to increasing phosphorus levels in the lakes (that not only contaminate water but kill off fish).' The area that needs to be addressed is very localized compared to the watershed of all five of the Great Lakes in two great countries. The sources of phosphorus in that specific area are not likely to be only agribusiness. I understand the areas are already being addressed, but the work is not complete. I think the suggestion of solving this problem by regulating only agribusiness in all of the The Great Lakes watershed in two countries is over-reach, it is not 'sensible', it is irresponsible. How would such a solution be viewed from the viewpoint of the 'moral compass' of the various impacted peoples with little or no benefit? I probably have too much distrust of government. Who did the dredging? I don't know what happened in 1992, maybe the erosion just accelerated all by itself and dredged up phosphorus containing sediment. I will just step back and let folks inform themselves and make their own decisions, right or wrong.
Jonathan Ramlow
Thu, 08/21/2014 - 12:06am
In the largest American cities, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were no public fire departments. Individual families could participate, for a fee, in private fire protection plans. They might have a plaque installed near their front doors that verified their membership. What this meant, of course, was that if a fire started in a member's house, the fire fighters would respond to a call for help and would suppress the fire as best they could. This also meant, of course, that if the member's house fire spread to non-members' houses (all too likely given the close spacing of houses), those families were just out of luck unless they were members of some other plan. One other "of course" under these conditions was if your non-member next-door neighbor's house caught fire, there could be no particular efforts made to protect you house until the fire had spread from your neighbors to you. If this sounds like a reasonable, efficient, cost-effective, and Bill of Rights-tested way of dealing with the problem of house fires in urban areas, then you are probably already convinced that drinking water supplies and sewage treatment are also best left to the private sector, for the same reasons. On the other hand, if you value the dramatic declines in the occurrence and mortality of water-borne illnesses in the US since the development of public (as in local government- run) water treatment facilities, then you might want to think again. Watching your children die of diarrhea, typhoid fever, or cholera was, and could be again, a very traumatic though common occurrence before the advent of effective public water treatment facilities. For similar reasons we have public law enforcement departments and yes, public fire departments, rather than privately operated "Joe's Bar and Fire Department"-type arrangements. And yes again, volunteer fire departments provide very dedicated service to their (probably) small and rural communities, but in most cases these fire fighters are using equipment made available with public funds collected from community residents. Large city or rural township, we are all in this together.