How Can We Ever Clean up Lake Erie?

August 30, 2019 | Brenda Dyack

How Can We Ever Clean up Lake Erie?

Lake Erie algal problems are nothing new. They’ve been high on the international scientific and political agendas for decades, with international commitments for a clean-up governed by the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The most recent bi-national Lakewide Action and Management Plan for Lake Erie (2019-2023) was drafted by the Lake Erie Partnership, a collaborative team of US and Canadian natural resource managers, in consultation with all levels of government, including Tribal and First Nations, as well as watershed management agencies. Farm groups are not mentioned, but the Report assures us that all important ecological issues as well as the best strategies and actions for cleaning up Lake Erie are covered. The report states that outcomes will be measured and that social, cultural and economic effects will be included, although details on what metrics will be used are not provided.

In response to the call for comments, CFFO expressed concern that a significant gap persists in the Report’s planning approach. What is missing is a framework for ranking clean-up options according to their impact and cost. CFFO questioned the adequacy of the current planning model for directing actions to address the following critical clean-up questions:


  • How can we decide which wetlands along approximately 1.4 thousand kilometers of Lake Erie coastline we should restore for maximum benefit at least cost?
  • Should we focus on improving agricultural best management systems or urban systems or both – and to what extent for each?
  • Where are the hot spots, and who should pay for clean-up?
  • Are incentives necessary? How much should governments pay and for what exactly?
  • What is a fair sharing of clean-up north and south of the border?
  • How will the ever-accumulating scientific information be used to weigh up the options?
  • How should we measure the health, wellbeing and cultural benefits of cleaner water for us and for future generations and incorporate these significant values into our strategies?

The bottom line is that we need a framework for comparing the full costs and full benefits of scientifically feasible options. Only then can we focus our efforts on cleaning up Lake Erie as fast as makes sense and at least cost.

This requires a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) framework. It’s not rocket science – CBA is standard practice for decision-making and also for focusing research efforts on what matters. We can clean up Lake Erie but we need to know how to get the greatest bang for our buck as fast as possible. That’s what CBA can do for us.

Brenda Dyack is Executive Director/Acting Director of Research & Policy for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.