As many of you know by now, northwest Ohio's Magee Marsh was just named America's 'Best Birdwatching' destination in a month-long readers' poll sponsored by USA Today and the travel Web site, 10Best.com.
But perhaps there's some comfort in knowing Mr. Casto's successor has had her eyes opened by what happened in Japan, just as he did.
NEW ORLEANS - Who would have thought that a retired military general would deliver the most outspoken remarks on behalf of nature and the news media during the opening reception of the world's largest annual gathering of environmental journalists?
Blade columnist Keith Burris raised a couple of points worth amplifying in a piece he wrote Tuesday about the aftermath of the Toledo water crisis.
For one thing, he noted, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has the power to declare the Maumee River watershed a "distressed watershed," but hasn't.
On the surface, that might sound like a bit of wonkish, bureaucratic rambling.
Declaring the Maumee River watershed distressed would allow state environmental regulators to require more testing, more protection, and greater scrutiny of western Lake Erie's most important tributary.
It would move the region beyond its largely voluntary, incentive-laden measures that will work only if there's near-unanimous participation, which hasn't happened.
The Maumee River may seem like a waterway impacted by urban issues because, for a lot of us, our vision of it has been shaped by what we see of the river as it flows past International Park or Promenade Park in downtown Toledo, or those momentary glimpses we get of it from bridges we travel across the mighty river in our automobiles.
But according to Heidelberg University's nationally renowned water quality laboratory, 73 percent of the land in the Maumee River watershed is agricultural. There are many parts of it Toledoans never see.
Declaring the watershed distressed would, hopefully, provide a little more stability in funding for Heidelberg's crucial tests for phosphorus loading, especially at its station in Waterville.
Heidelberg's been gathering data since 1974, one of the longest and most comprehensive data sets on phosphorus loading in the Great Lakes region.
Yet, almost without fail, it does it all with smoke and mirrors, relying on a hodgepodge of small grants and funds, much of which comes from foundations and universities. Those vary from year to year and drain an inordinate amount of time away from the lab's director, Ken Krieger.
A close-up of algae near Toledo's water-intake crib during Toledo's algae-induced water crisis the first weekend of August. BLADE PHOTO/Dave Zapotosky
"We call this a 'crisis,' but we are not acting like there is a crisis," Burris wrote.
He quoted Toledo Councilman Jack Ford, a former state legislator, as saying the governor would be convening a special session of the Ohio General Assembly if he truly believes the contamination that rendered Toledo's tap water unsafe the first weekend of August - as well as continued anxiety over it - was and continues to be a real crisis.
Burris also alluded to a strong suspicion one of Toledo's former public utilities directors, Tom Kovacik, has about the man-made Facility 3 waterfront landfill in Oregon.
Kovacik has worn a number of different hats over the years.
He's a former president of Envirosafe Services of Ohio, Inc. At various junctures, he has been an environmental consultant and a chief operating officer and safety director for the city of Toledo in addition to being chief of its utilities department. He's a former N-Viro International Corp. president and has been on N-Viro's board of directors since the end of 2006.
He is convinced Toledo sewage sludge hauled out to Facility 3 by N-Viro's chief competitor, S & L Fertilizer, is leaching into Lake Erie's Maumee Bay, an allegation that S & L disputes.
But here's the deal: It's not about Kovacik.
It's not about S & L.
It's about Lake Erie.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency should get to the bottom of this controversy once and for all - and not stop there.
Why? We're in a new era. It's one in which no stone should be left unturned in the quest for truth about what ails Lake Erie.
Just the idea of a waterfront landfill leaking - of all things - less-than-perfect Class B sewage sludge into the same lake where regional water-treatment plants have their raw-water intakes seems at least worthy of some hard research.
Modern planners generally shudder at the thought of siting a dump along a shoreline these days for anything, even ordinary household garbage. Why not a closer look at the sewage sludge?
Say Kovacik's wrong. No biggie.
Theory tested, theory dismissed.
But what if he's right and it's worse than people imagined?
The thing is, this is only one of several theories out there where data gaps exist - and, if we're going to get to the root of what ails Lake Erie, we're going to have to not just think outside the box but also act outside it, too. The status quo won't cut it.
I get tips almost daily about other theories and possibilities, anything from the type of road salt used in rural areas to to how northwest Ohio farms are drained to how a common pesticide might be giving off unintended consequences.
Scientists will decide where the research priorities are.
But it seems clear that, in addition to testing and re-testing familiar territory, we're going to have to explore new avenues.
That's the cost of pollution, which bites you in more ways than one.
We'll need to be more open-minded and creative, as well as bold enough to go beyond what's traditionally researched, even if we hit a few dead-ends.
In short, we have to try harder. We have to eliminate more question marks.
That's what science does. It encourages thinking outside the box.
That exploration - that journey - is what makes science fascinating.
It's Lake Erie's best hope.
Warren Henry believes the city of Toledo's plan to rehabilitate its 73-year-old Collins Park Water Treatment Plant to the tune of nearly $300 million is "definitely the right approach."
Who's Warren Henry and why does his opinion matter?
Warren Henry said he is totally down with Toledo's plan for rehabbing its Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, rather than trying to build a new one. BLADE PHOTO/Andy Morrison.
First, complete disclosure here.
"Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."
- Henry David Thoreau
About Ripple Effect
Every pollution battle ultimately comes down to mankind's desire to better itself while protecting its sense of home. In this blog, Blade Staff Writer Tom Henry looks at how Great Lakes energy-environmental issues have a ripple effect on our public health, our natural resources, our economy, our psychological well-being, and our homespun pride.
About Tom Henry
Tom Henry is an award-winning journalist who has covered primarily energy and environmental issues the past two decades. He is a member of the national Society of Environmental Journalists, one of North America's largest journalism groups.
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