The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


Harmful algal blooms gained considerable notoriety when the City of Toledo was faced with unsafe levels of microcystin toxin in drinking water during the Toledo Water Crisis in August 2014

Dr. Larry M. Antosch

In response to growing concerns about the toxin in municipal water systems and high costs associated with treating it, collaborative efforts by multiple organizations and government are bringing in millions of dollars to aid farmers and academic research.

The Ohio Farm Bureau has invested $2 million and counting of membership funds, says Dr. Larry M. Antosch, senior director for the OFB’s policy development and environmental policy division.

In 2014, the bureau dedicated $1 million of its own resources to water quality action plans, which was a “large commitment by our board,” says Dr. Antosch.

Dr. Antosch’s position was created by the bureau 17 years ago for the express purpose of addressing water quality issues, which he calls great foresight by the OFB. By the end of 2015, he says his organization’s investment will have doubled.

“There are lots of different components in there,” Dr. Antosch said, speaking to 100 guests at a Lake Erie Improvement Association-hosted breakfast forum at the Catawba Island Club in December.

“Working with the State of Ohio, a lot of things are happening,” Antosch continued. “They are putting a lot of things together — a thing called ‘Field to Faucet’ is looking at things happening from the farm field all the way to the water treatment plant. Also lots of activities with the Ohio Board of Regents in terms of dollars going to that.”

The Ohio Board of Regents dedicated another $2 million, plus matching funds from participating institutions, including the University of Toledo, to fund a Lake Erie Research and Development Initiative. The distribution is based on five areas of focus: Lake Erie HABs and lake water quality; production of safe drinking water; land use practices, sources of enrichment, water quality and engineered systems; human health and toxicity; and economics and policy.

The UT Lake Erie Center’s Dr. Thomas Bridgeman is the principal investigator for the Lake Erie HABs and lake water quality in Maumee Bay and surrounding areas of the Western Lake Erie Basin. Objectives for the two-year project include continued sampling around the Toledo and Oregon city water intakes and other sites in Western Lake Erie, and aiding development of an advanced warning network for the water utilities.

This project will provide water treatment facilities with advanced warning of potential HABs that may migrate near the water intakes. The problem with the old system is that by the time the sensors, located near the intakes, provide information, the facilities only have a few hours before the HABs reach the intakes. It is hoped that the new project would provide an early-warning network with the potential to increase advance warning to 12 to 24 hours.

In addition, an informal legislative panel is looking into what can be done to address threats to Ohio’s water resources, in particular Lake Erie and other lakes and rivers that have been negatively impacted by harmful algal blooms.

Healthy Water Ohio is calling for the creation of a public-private Ohio Water Trust, funded at $250 million annually, to enact the group’s recommendations for preserving the state’s water assets.

Chaired by State Sen. Randy Gardner, the panel also heard from Sen. Joe Schiavoni, who is proposing a $1 billion statewide water bond initiative for voter consideration possibly as early as March. Sen. Gardner also mentioned the possibility of the bond issue at the Catawba Island Club forum.

Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau’s vice president of public policy, noted money from a bond issue should be used to address all of the state’s water resource challenges and not just go toward infrastructure needs, which would use up all the funding quickly.

Josh Knights, executive director of The Nature Conservancy, said the trust would treat the root causes of Ohio’s clean water challenges, be science-based and include both gray and green infrastructure improvements. He said the agricultural community has “shown amazing leadership” in addressing water issues and can be a strong funding partner in finding solutions to Ohio’s water challenges.

“Agriculture is a significant, although not the only contributor to nutrient loading, and can play a key role in identifying and providing meaningful resources to the effort to supplement bonds of other public funding,” he said.

Started with Ohio Farm Bureau
Work on Healthy Water Ohio started two years ago when the Ohio Farm Bureau convened a diverse partnership of water stakeholders to lead the development of a longer term water resource management strategy.

More than 200 individuals and organizations provided input. The group’s 36-page report describes Ohio’s current water resource conditions and challenges and an action plan that calls for the creation of an Ohio Water Trust with a portion of funding coming from the sale of state bonds.

Dr. Antosch remembers Healthy Water Ohio dialog being brought to Toledo last May in a forum on water and food production.

“Healthy Water Ohio was an issue that the Ohio Farm Bureau began — the mission here was to establish a 20- to 30-year strategy for Ohio’s water resources — quantity, quality, surface ground water,” Antosch said. “We had a diverse group of folks, about an 18-month process, and the report came out in September.

“The steering committee was made up of a lot of different water users and folks who had an influence and impact on water resources — business and industry, conservational and environmental advocacy, finance, food and farming, law and order, municipal water systems, public health, recreation and tourism, research and education outreach. There were meetings across the state gathering information. There was a statewide survey, talks with a focus group of government leaders, state agencies, and a panel of experts from around the nation — just gathering information, figuring out what they were doing, and what would work.”

The WLEW reaches into Indiana and Michigan, and those states are getting into the act, too. Dr. Antosch says a joint effort among Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan resulted in the Tri-State Regional Partnership Program, which is bringing another $17.5 million to look at developing programs that deal with implementing nutrient management from the grow-crop and livestock aspects. He said Ohio already has the largest number of applicants.

“In Ohio, we had the first sign-up. We had over 300 applications, 81 contracts, 27½ thousand acres, and utilized about $3.5 million going out to assist with the implementation of management practices to deal with nutrients,” Dr. Antosch said.

Plus, the Farm Bureau is involved in local grassroots funding to make sure farmers get the tools they need.

“We are learning, doing what we can to address the concerns,” Antosch said. “We also have a series of grants out there to our counties — we were able to distribute about $140,000 to 10 projects across Ohio, about a $3 match, so with every dollar from the Farm Bureau, we ended up with $3 of outside support. Partnerships were key on this, trying to look at what can we do to help address water quality issues across Ohio and to make sure we programs ready to establish a good partnership.”



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