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Ohio Takes Steps to Confront Toxic Algae Crisis

National Wildlife Federation: Actions need to be a catalyst for more comprehensive effort

TOLEDO, OHIO — Yesterday, the state of Ohio took two steps to confront the epidemic of toxic algae that, in recent years, has poisoned drinking water, closed beaches, hurt tourism, increased water utility rates, and threatened fish and wildlife. Both actions are intended to reduce farm runoff pollution into Lake Erie that is the No. 1 cause of toxic algal blooms. The actions include:

  1. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order that calls for rules to require farmers to craft and implement plans to reduce run-off pollution that runs into the Maumee River that feeds into Lake Erie. The order is targeted at eight geographic areas that cover approximately 2 million acres—about 40 percent of the area that drains into western Lake Erie.
  2. The governor signed a bill sponsored by Ohio State Rep. Steve Arndt (R-Port Clinton) and State Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) that invests $36 million to help farmers prevent manure and excess fertilizers from running off farm fields and polluting waterways, by paying for farming practices such as soil testing, injecting nutrients into the soil (rather than on the surface), planting vegetation around fields to absorb nutrients, and installing natural drainage systems to keep water on fields. These practices were identified in a 2017 paper as the best ways to reduce farm runoff.

The measures, in tandem, will put in place a mechanism for nutrient-reduction plans and funding to implement them in an effort to control farm runoff that accounts for upwards of 85 percent of the pollution that flows into Lake Erie, triggering toxic algal outbreaks. The moves by the state of Ohio target eight areas in the Maumee River basin. The National Wildlife Federation is urging state leaders to act with urgency to promote strong soil and water conservation actions in the entire Maumee River basin.

Gail Hesse, Great Lakes water program director for the National Wildlife Federation, and one of the authors of the 2017 report, said:

“The executive order and legislation set the stage for much-needed action to confront the toxic algae crisis. It is essential that these actions serve as a catalyst for comprehensive action by the state of Ohio to solve this serious threat. The status quo is clearly not working and has put the staggering economic and environmental costs of toxic algae onto people, businesses, utilities, and communities. It will be essential for Ohio’s public officials to accelerate efforts to reduce runoff pollution—including the establishment of water quality goals for these eight areas and a strong framework for accountability. The people of Ohio deserve to know when they can start to see progress in meeting clean water goals to protect Lake Erie, our drinking water, public health, fish and wildlife, and economy.”

The actions come as Ohio attempts to meet its pollution-reduction goals into Lake Erie. It joined the state of Michigan and province of Ontario in agreeing to reduce runoff pollution by 40 percent by 2025 and is struggling to meet the interim goal of 20 percent by 2020. Earlier this year, the state of Ohio listed portions of Lake Erie as impaired under the Clean Water Act, an acknowledgement that the lake is not healthy and needs help, but has failed to date to identify specific sources of pollution, to set targeted pollution limits, and to lay out a timeline to measure progress against.

The actions by the state of Ohio come four years after a toxic algal outbreak in western Lake Erie led to a “Do Not Drink” advisory for more than 400,000 people in and around Toledo.

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