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Big bucks earmarked for Ohio waterway improvements

Big bucks for important environmental projects are earmarked for Ohio waters as our state and nation continue working to improve our stewardship of precious natural resources.

The U.S. EPA announced Lake Erie and three major tributaries will receive $1 billion in investments as part of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The money is to clean up and restore waters designated as “areas of concern.” They are judged to be severely degraded locations.

Without clean air and clean water, what’s the point, right? Nevertheless, some critics will decry the expenditures as a waste of taxpayers’ money because they are funded by legislation championed by a president they do not support.

For all but the past 50 years of the entire history of humans on earth, we have been soiling our planet pretty much without remorse. Ancient populations knew nothing about carbon emissions or the long-term effect of dumping waste in the rivers. When things got nasty, our ancestors simply packed up and moved to the next river or spring.

The Industrial Revolution compounded the poisoning as all manner of toxic effluent could be readily disposed of in the rivers that flowed past the factories. Willy-nilly dumping continued without much regulation and policing until passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Now comes more much-needed funding to continue the clean-up. The infrastructure money will be used to restore the Black, Cuyahoga and Maumee rivers, all Erie tributaries, as well as to address key issues like the harmful algae blooms that plague Lake Erie’s western basin and to protect against further establishment of invasive species.

Regardless of one’s political persuasion, we must recognize that now is the time to address issues that affect Lake Erie’s health.

Erie is valuable not only as a water resource and recreation location, but also to the economy of the Great Lakes region. A 2020 analysis showed the Great Lakes region supports $1.3 million jobs paying $82 billion in wages every year.

As a fisherman and citizen who cares very much about the legacy of our generation and the health and welfare of those who will come after us, I applaud the Erie waters restoration work that will be funded by the federal infrastructure bill.

When I travel to Lake Erie for its outstanding walleye, smallmouth bass and steelhead trout fishing, I always have in the back of my mind the trips to Erie I took as a youngster with my parents. I remember beaches with signs warning of water too fouled for swimming. I remember my first trips on Dad’s Starcraft fishing boat as I peered over the side to check whether my Erie Dearie was visible even a foot under the surface.

Today, I enjoy banner days of heart-pounding action for huge walleyes, bull-dozing bronzebacks and aerial acrobat steelhead. I can look over the side of the Bass Cat through water so clear that I can see boulders and sand bars 20 feet deep.

There is more we can do, of course, as we shoulder our responsibilities as stewards of our resources. One relatively easy choice we can make is to earmark a few dollars on our tax return for the Wildlife Diversity Fund or State Nature Preserves and Scenic Rivers to benefit Ohio’s wildlife and wild places. The fund helps improve habitats for endangered plants and animals.

You can donate a portion of your state income tax refund by entering a dollar amount for “State Nature Preserves and Scenic Rivers” online 26a or “Wildlife Species” on line 26d of the 2021 IT 1040 tax form.

Of course, whether you pledge personal dollars is up to you. But at the very least, we must not get in the way of the work that is required to preserve our land, air and water.

Jack Wollitz’s book, “The Common Angler,” dives into the experiences that combine to make fishing a passion for so many people. He likes emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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