Lake Erie Granted Personhood Status by State of Ohio

Polluters in Toledo could be sued to pay for cleanup costs.

Lake Erie pollution
The Lady K tow boat kicks up a wake full of green algae a few hundred feet from the city of Toledo's Water Intake on Lake Erie, for testing. (Ty Wright/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Voters in Toledo, Ohio passed the Erie Bill of Rights this week a unique charter that establishes the huge lake as a person and grants it the legal rights that a human being would have.

The motion passed by a 61% to 39% margin.

The new law will allow the people of Toledo to act as legal guardians for Lake Erie — as if the citizens were the parents and the lake were their child — and polluters of the lake could be sued to pay for cleanup costs and prevention programs.

The bill was initiated by organizers who were distraught by the algae blooms that developed in the lake, making it green and slimy and unhealthy from agricultural phosphorous runoff, The Guardian reported.

“Sometimes it was almost like all of us were at a funeral and we felt we had just seen the lake die,” said Tish O’Dell, a community organizer who specializes in environmental issues.

And now, the “rights of nature” movement is spreading from the midwest to the rest of the U.S. Organizers behind the vote say they have heard from representatives of communities in Silicon Valley, counties around Salt Lake City in Utah, citizens of states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and cities along the Atlantic coast in Maine.

“We had representatives from Florida who came up here to work on our campaign because they want to see what they can do about the recent big algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico they have suffered from,” said Markie Miller, a local Toledo theater manager and one of the organizers for getting the bill on the ballot.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.