Photographer shows plight of keeping Lake Erie vital, healthy

The following article originally appeared in the Chagrin Valley Times. Our thanks to the Times for permission to republish the article here.

Chagrin Valley Times

May 30, 2019

Photographer Linda Butler focuses on the environment with the goal of inspiring people to protect resources like Lake Erie to which the Grand, Cuyahoga, Chagrin and six other rivers flow from Ohio.

She presented many of her photos to area residents during a May 16 presentation at the Geauga Park District’s West Woods Nature Center in Russell Township. “Lake Erie: On the Edge” was part of the Protect Geauga Parks organization’s “Conservation Conversation.”

Kathy Hanratty of Protect Geauga Parks introduced Ms. Butler, noting that decisions made in the headwaters of the rivers have ramifications that impact the health and vitality of Lake Erie. She said the “photographs express the beauty, majesty and fragility of our own Lake Erie.”

Ms. Hanratty said Lake Erie is the most threatened of the Great Lakes mostly because it is the smallest by volume, shallowest and has the highest population around its shores. Lake Erie also provides drinking water to three million people. The other four are Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Ontario.

“Here in Geauga County, we are linked to the fate of Lake Erie in so many ways,” Ms. Hanratty said. “Decisions we make here in the headwaters of Grand, Cuyahoga and Chagrin rivers that flow to Lake Erie have ramifications that affect the health and vitality of the lake,” she said.

Ms. Butler has had 30 one-person museum exhibitions and published four books with her photographs. Her Lake Erie photographs are traveling to various museums now through 2020.

Her concern with environmental issues prompted her from 2014 to 2017 to drive and fly around Lake Erie to take the color photographs. During the fall of 2018, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History hosted a 50-print exhibition of “Lake Erie: On the Edge.”

Ms. Butler supports the Ohio Environmental Council. She and her husband Steve Nissen live in a passive solar home which uses primarily energy from the sun.

She noted that Lake Erie has experienced major changes over the years. “I got involved when there was a crisis in Toledo when the water was invaded by poisonous algae for about three days,” Ms. Butler said. From a boat, she took close-up photos of the algae which were on display at the West Woods Nature Center event. “I got caught up in trying to figure out what was creating these problems.”

She had a drone and went to a farmer’s field near Toledo before and after it was planted. At one time it was a massive swamp about 100 miles long and 50 miles wide, she said. “As a swamp, it was like a giant sponge, but now it no longer has the capacity to absorb sudden rains and we have the problems of runoff,” Ms. Butler said. The runoff can’t be absorbed so it goes into the tributaries of the Maumee River.

The river has flooded over its banks, carrying silt, fertilizer and manure from the farms in the area, she said. It finds its way into tributaries and then the Maumee River and into Lake Erie, “And we have a problem in the lake,” Ms. Butler said. The silt, manure and fertilizer create opportunities for massive invasions of algae.

“That’s how the algae growth starts,” she said of the run-off. “This is a huge problem for our state and for us. We’re where it starts.”

Some good things have been done. There are two huge protected natural areas on each side of Lake Erie, including the Magee Marsh, a national wildlife refuge.

“Thousands of birds come across the lake to eat and restore themselves and head south to breed and it’s wonderful to see,” she said. She showed a photo of protected wetlands with tall grass across the lake at Point Pelee, in Ontario, Canada.

She took photos of the industrial activities around the lake, including a limestone mine and two massive refineries in Toledo and in Detroit. Both are high uses of energy. In the city limits of Detroit is a refinery using a “huge amount of energy to make fuel for vehicles,” she said.

A photo shows a wind farm with thousands of turbines as an alternative to the refineries.

“Ontario is ahead of everybody, using 5,000 turbines to generate electricity,” she said. “It is clean energy and turbines do not give off carbine dioxide while coal does, and it warms the planet. We need to reduce the carbon dioxide we are emitting.”

She noted that the Cuyahoga River, of which she has many photos, is a success story. It doesn’t have the amount of toxins it had 50 years ago. “It’s been cleaned up and progress has been made.”

Clean lake water is important to everyone, she said. “The tenuousness of fresh water around the world means we have to take care of our five great lakes and preserve this incredible gift we have from nature.”

At the session, she invited members of the audience to pick out a photo and express how the picture touched them.

Raymond Barnum picked out one of Ms. Butler’s photos of Niagara Falls from the Ontario side. “This shows the falls and the beauty and power of nature and how insignificant we are in comparison,” he said.

There are more than a million homes electrified by the falls, he noted in reading information provided on the back of the photo.

Rosemary Balazs of the Geauga League of Women Voters displayed a photo by Ms. Butler of a lake shore coal-burning power plant torn down by the Cleveland Illuminating Company a few years ago in downtown Cleveland. It took 130 coal cars a day to run. “I can’t believe how much coal they burned in the early 1990s,” said Ms. Balazs who was familiar with the plant. Ducks and birds swam in the warm water created by hot water running from the plant, she observed.

Mrs. Butler said she continues to be engaged with environmental issues including global warming. She will use her photographs to educate people about “Saving the resources we have.”

These five Great Lakes are extremely valuable, Ms. Butler said. “Nobody in the world has this quantity of fresh water at their finger tips,” she said.

Categories: Events, News

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