Officials start two-pronged war on invasive species

CLEVELAND State and federal officials say they are declaring war on alien species invading the Great
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

CLEVELAND

State and federal officials say they are declaring war on alien species invading the Great Lakes.

Invasive species such as the mussels that clog up the water intake lines for Sandusky and other Lake Erie cities are "terrorists from abroad that have entered our lake," declared U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. Voinovich was one of the officials who spoke at a Monday morning press conference about a new two-front effort to deal with creatures that don't belong in Lake Erie, but arrive here in ballast water.

Ohio's federal lawmakers, such as Voinovich and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have authored federal legislation to regulate ballast water in ocean-going ships on the Great Lakes, preventing them from dumping unpleasant creatures such as zebra mussels into U.S. waters.

State lawmakers are offering their own legislation. State Rep. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, said he'll introduce a bill soon allowing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to regulate ballast water discharges into Lake Erie. It's a federal problem, but a state bill will put pressure on Congress to finally act, Skindell said.

Officials at a press conference at Edgewater Park, a state park just west of Cleveland's downtown, explained that much of the invasive species problem is caused by ballast water discharges.

Cargo ships in the Great Lakes that originate in other freshwater lakes around the world, such as the Caspian Sea in Russia, carry water to stabilize their weight. When they travel across the ocean and reach a Great Lakes port after going up the St. Lawrence Seaway, they dump out the water while loading cargo.

The problem is when water from other lakes is dumped into Lake Erie, it can also dump out organisms that don't belong in the lake, such as zebra and quagga mussels. At least 183 non-native species have been found in the Great Lakes.

An average of two new invasive species arrive every year, threatening the health of native wildlife, said Ray Petering, executive administrator for fish management and research for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

"We are playing Russian Roulette with these invasive species," Petering said.

Sandusky's water superintendent, Doug Keller, said the city has battled zebra and quagga

mussels since the late 1980s. They frequently threaten to clog up the water intake line Sandusky uses to draw water from Lake Erie.

At first, the city had to use shovels and buckets to clean them out. More recently, the city has turned to flushing them out of the line during winter, before water demand rises with the coming of warmer weather.

Because the creatures that threaten the Great Lakes are freshwater animals, they'd be killed if ships take the trouble to flush them out with salt water, officials at the press conference said.

Voinovich said he and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., have authored a Great Lakes bill, The Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, which includes ballast water regulation. A Brown spokeswoman said Brown supports a similar bill.

Skindell said he's introducing a bill soon that would allow the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to regulate ballast water discharges in Lake Erie.

It's a problem the federal government needs to solve, but Ohio can act in the meantime, and legislation by the states will put pressure on federal lawmakers to deal with the issue, Skindell said. He said Michigan already has passed ballast water legislation, and state lawmakers from other Great Lakes states are trying to follow suit.

Sean Logan, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said ballast water regulation at both the federal and state levels are a top priority for the Strickland administration. Logan said he'll go to Washington, D.C., next week to bring that message to members of Ohio's congressional delegation.

State Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, said he supports regulating ballast water dumped into Lake Erie and discussed the issue with Logan during the recent Fish Ohio event held in Ottawa County.