The rights of water bodies?

As a young engineer, w-a-a-a-y back in the Pleistocene, I worked on the design of a dike made of flyash along the edge of Lake Erie. It was a slick and intricate project, technically, and I learned a lot, contributed a lot, and have never regretted my part in the work. That project kept industrial waste out of the lake, and helped to protect it.

That experience has made me alert through the years to reports of the decline in the health of Lake Erie thanks to agricultural pollution and algae blooms. Now, the citizens of Toledo have decided it is time to do something about it.

Toledo voters have reached a consensus: Lake Erie — the world’s 11th largest lake and one that provides drinking water to 12 million U.S. and Canadian citizens — deserves to have its own bill of rights.

In a special election that drew only about 9 percent of Toledo’s registered voters to the polls, the citizen-led Lake Erie Bill of Rights referendum passed by a 61-39 margin on Tuesday night, according to unofficial election results.

Now, it’s up to lawyers to sort out what the citizenry’s impassioned plea for the lake really means in practice …

As sympathetic as I am to the residents’ frustrations, it’s difficult to know what the voters have said. A lake is a non-sentient ever-evolving ecosystem and has no rights to assert; almost certainly, this legislation will become a vehicle for perverse litigation by half-baked busybodies.

As a political gesture, though, which serves notice to the hired-help in the adjoining state and provincial capitals that We, the People, have had ENOUGH!, it’s genius.

Dawn and I made our annual colors trip last fall, this time visiting the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan (we timed it exactly right, and the colors were terrific, btw). We went along the western edge of the Lower Peninsula, across the top of the mitten, and then south along Lake Huron. I was frankly shocked by how inaccessible Lake Michigan is. The northern end of Lake Huron has frequent roadside parks that provide access, but it, too, is unavailable over much of its length.

Erie, famously, is a dumping ground for agricultural runoff that nourishes algae blooms that stink.

And then there is Lake Superior, highly accessible because it is protected by miserable winters and a National Lakeshore designation along its southern edge.

The moral is clear: Without an activist citizenry that take steps to protect resources, they will be exploited, soiled, and wasted by cynics indifferent to their beauty and incapable of seeing anything but dollar signs. Good for You!, then, to the people of Toledo for putting their foot down and taking a first step toward making one of the Great Lakes great again.

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