Did you know that the Great Lakes are the biggest freshwater source in the world? Lake Erie is the most productive for fishing of all the Great Lakes. Your support helps make our streams clean, clear and healthy so they can support this complex ecosystem. By donating to PCS, you help us reach our goals of restoring rivers that lead to Lake Erie beaches that promote fishable and swimmable conditions for generations.

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By Kris Patterson, Executive Director

I have personally been removing trash from our small corner of the Lake Erie watershed since college. Seventeen years later I am proud to lead the largest one-day river cleanup in Northwest Ohio, and perhaps even along the Lake Erie Coastline. Unfortunately, the disheartening side to that success is that we're still at it. This is one of those jobs that you hope to, someday, work yourself out of by "solving" the problem. I am happy on the rare occasion when we have groups come back from a cleanup and say they couldn't find much trash. While I know they wanted to make a bigger difference (and we appreciate the effort anyway), I also know it doesn't take much looking around to find that garbage downstream somewhere. So what do we do?

There's no easy answer. But we are trying, on a much bigger scale, to come up with strategies and actions to put into practice across the Great Lakes states.

I was recently invited by NOAA to attend a working group that focused on strategies for tackling marine debris in the Great Lakes. Marine debris is a common issue around the world in salt water environments and there are many educational initiative, policies, and programs along our salt water coasts, but working on those in the Great Lakes poses unique challenges. One of the unique aspects of the Great Lakes is that we drink the water from the lakes, unlike most salt water environments. So the group was keenly aware of how emerging issues, such as micro-plastics, needed to be part of the conversation. As is common in action planning like this, many of our actions were to gather more information to inform the "real" goal - changing behaviors to minimize marine debris from entering the environment in the first place.

 As a fundamental strategy, part of our effort will be in updating or modifying messages, images, and materials that help people understand impacts of debris in our Great Lakes context and sharing those common messages around the Great Lakes with its' citizens. We don't have the same wildlife as saltwater coasts so the existing entanglement pictures showing sea turtles and dolphins just don't resonate with people here. So we need new materials. We talked about illegal dumping versus accidental fly-away trash and the shift to automated pick up (and less large item pick up) but we need more data to see trends or causal relationships. Perhaps packaging from manufacturers and shifts to more biodegradable or minimal packaging should be emphasized. But that's a major undertaking, with many factors involved. Yet industry representatives sat at the table with river stewards and champions and recognized that the concern about marine debris brings together a common resolve to change what we can change.

The working group is an interesting mix of government, university, industry, researchers, practitioners, and recreationists. It will take effort from all these stakeholders and from the everyday citizen too, to reverse course on marine debris. Meanwhile, PCS is working to educate people, and behaviors, through prevention as well. Our regional Storm Drain Marking program informs community members to keep trash, and other chemicals and waste, out of the storm drains because that is a direct path for it to reach a river. And our volunteers pulling trash out of the rivers before (hopefully) it gets to a drinking water intake see first-hand that everything and anything man-made seems to end up in our rivers. We are also working with much larger efforts to track, monitor, and inform strategies and policies for debris, such as through Ocean Conservancy and NOAA's Marine Debris program. In fact, NOAA's Marine Debris program, through the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation, is providing a small grant towards supplies for our stream cleanups and developing educational, prevention materials.

So while we don't have all the answers yet, we know that what we can all take is to take small actions now. Take reusable bags to the grocery store; grab that fly-away paper before it ends up in the river; clear the storm drains of gunk as spring melts are upon us; pick up trash as you walk the dog around the block or through a local park; secure your trash in its bins and take it to the curb only shortly before pick up. Oh, and of course, you can always donate to PCS so we can continue the programs we are working on today and every day.


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Partners for Clean Streams Inc. is striving for abundant open space and a high quality natural environment; adequate floodwater storage capacities and flourishing wildlife; stakeholders who take local ownership in their resources; and rivers, streams and lakes that are clean, clear and safe