Lake Erie Now Has Its Own Bill of Rights

Public Domain. MaxPixel – A view of Lake Erie at sunset

A triumphant win for Toledo residents means that the Great Lake's wellbeing is now an official top priority.

In a triumphant win for a group of grassroots environmental activists in Toledo, Ohio, Lake Erie and its watershed will soon have its own Bill of Rights. Led by Toledoans for Safe Water, with support from Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, the new bill declares that the Great Lake has a right to carry a smaller environmental burden than it currently does.

A special vote, held on February 26, drew about 9 percent of Toledo's registered voters and passed by a 61-39 margin. It is now in the hands of lawyers to determine just what shape this Bill of Rights will take.

The idea for Lake Erie to be entitled to its own environmental rights originated in the crisis of August 2014, during which a half-million people in Toledo went without drinking water for three days, due to an infestation of toxic algae that had been drawn into the city's distribution system. The experience served as a wakeup call to many residents that the lake was in need of serious help.

Enter the Bill of Rights, which strives to improve the health and wellbeing of the long-struggling lake. The campaigners blame direct dumping of industrial waste, runoff of noxious substances from large-scale farming operations, including CAFOs, and "reckless government policies," as well as the effects of global climate change for what they describes as "an immediate emergency."

LEBOR campaign

© Toledoans for Safe Water / Facebook (used with permission)

From the proposed amendment:

"We, the people of the City of Toledo, declare and enact this Lake Erie Bill of Rights, which establishes irrevocable rights for the Lake Erie Ecosystem to exist, flourish and naturally evolve, a right to a healthy environment for the residents of Toledo, and which elevates the rights of the community and its natural environment over powers claimed by certain corporations."

The Toledo Blade reported that the Bill was drafted by the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and modeled after the 'rights to nature' laws now found in 10 states and in Nepal, India, Cameroon, Colombia, and Australia.

While the campaigners are celebrating their win, not everyone is pleased. Farmers and labor unions say they're disappointed with the vote's result, and the Chamber of Commerce ran a last-minute radio campaign predicting economic disaster and calling it a "job killer" if the vote passed.

This is TreeHugger, so it's no guess as to which side of the debate we fall on. I think it's wonderful that a natural feature such as a lake can be considered to have its own rights, and that human activity must be subject to these, rather than viewing it as an everlasting commodity, as has been the norm for far too long.

Human survival is intimately tied to nature's wellbeing. As Toledoans experienced in 2014, it doesn't take much to throw human lives off balance, which is why we need to fight to protect nature more fiercely than ever now.