The Importance of Movement Building

Peter Bucher, Water Resources Director, Ohio Environmental Council

As in many other parts of the world, Ohio is facing the challenge of protecting our water from harmful algal blooms.

Algal blooms are annual events that occur in nearly every major body of water. They pose a public health threat, hinder local economies and limit recreation in some of our greatest natural resources. Even with these recurring issues facing Ohioans and businesses alike, action has not followed the same trend.

Build a movement to clean the water in Lake Erie

To get things moving in the right direction, more people need to be involved in this fight for clean water and a clean Lake Erie. There is power in numbers, and you see results when you build a movement.

Building such a movement can be a daunting task, but when there have been years of inaction as our harmful algal bloom problem grows worse there is no other option. The key stakeholders in this issue consist of environmental groups, the public, the agricultural industry, the business community and, of course, the decision makers.

In 2013, 2,000 residents of Carroll Township, Ohio, were left without access to safe drinking water due to the algal blooms that formed on their shores.
In 2013, 2,000 residents of Carroll Township, Ohio, were left without access to safe drinking water due to the algal blooms that formed on their shores.

Earlier this year we helped gather a coalition of farmers, watershed advocates, charter boat captains and urban community leaders to advocate at the Ohio Statehouse. Collectively everyone was able to communicate to various state legislators why clean, affordable water is a necessity that must be protected.

Get Lake Erie back on track

To move the needle in the right direction, we need to see more of these groups working together and making a plan to put Lake Erie back on track. The base of this movement is formed by pulling together like-minded organizations that fight for Lake Erie. Getting partner organizations and individual advocates together to coalesce around a single strategy is the first crucial step towards success.

Once a foundation is established, the movement is strengthened by incorporating nontraditional stakeholders that will join the fight for Lake Erie. Earlier this year we worked with a diverse group in Toledo to find agreed-upon goals to achieve algae-free water in Lake Erie. This group was comprised of representatives from the healthcare industry, rotary clubs, agricultural operations, universities, businesses, foundations and environmental organizations.

Sharing the clean water message

Reaching out and involving others allows you to ensure your plan works for all parties, not just one. This is crucial when dealing with an issue as complex as the health of Lake Erie. Securing these partnerships increases the size of the movement, the audiences you can reach and the credibility of the message.

An environmentalist preaching the health of Lake Erie may find the message falling on deaf ears, but if a farmer can discuss best management practices with peers, the message has a better chance of success. When trying to tip the scales of action, getting partner buy-in goes a long way.

Kelley's Island is one of many Lake Erie destinations that are threatened by harmful algal blooms each summer.
Kelley’s Island is one of many Lake Erie destinations that are threatened by harmful algal blooms each summer.

Ohio is made up of such diversity that you need a diverse coalition to reach as many communities as possible with your message. Joining forces not only accomplishes this, but it also allows the message to be amplified across as many outlets as possible.

To take a coalition and mobilize a movement over the long-term, you must assess the effectiveness of your efforts and be able to adapt to changing landscapes. Different opportunities will arise as decision makers may change so you have to be able to seize the moment.

Let’s join forces for clean water in Lake Erie

We are currently in the process of organizing water roundtables in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati with environmental partners, business leaders, health care entities, community organizations and outdoors enthusiast groups. We hope to find an overlay of what common ground we can establish across all sectors to build off of and advocate for as a united group going forward.

As part of a business and tourism coalition, Ohio Environmental Council staffers held a meeting with U.S. Senator Rob Portman in 2017 to discuss challenges and solutions related to harmful algal blooms.
As part of a business and tourism coalition, Ohio Environmental Council staffers held a meeting with U.S. Senator Rob Portman in 2017 to discuss challenges and solutions related to harmful algal blooms.

Although stakeholders don’t always align on how to achieve clean water or protect it, the need for clean water is the one thing that always joins us. Building upon this common thread is what will empower the movement to put Lake Erie back on track.