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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is expected soon to unveil a plan on how to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40 percent.

Last summer, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, Canada signed an agreement to reduce phosphorus by 40 percent by 2025. Their more immediate goal is to cut phosphorus by 2020. The Ohio EPA, by the end of this month, will propose an implementation plan on how to meet those goals.

The plan is the result of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Annex 4, a commitment from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Ontario, Canada, to reduce total phosphorus entering the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

Excess phosphorus levels contribute to algal blooms in the lake. An algal bloom containing toxic microcystin was responsible for a three day tap water ban for Toledo water customers in August 2014.

The collaborative agreement provides a framework for identifying bi-national priorities and implementing actions that improve water quality. The EPA coordinates U.S. activities under the agreement and Environment Canada is coordinating Canadian activities.

“We are about to come out with our implementation plan for the collaborative agreement,” Heidi Griesmer, Ohio EPA deputy director of communications told The Press last week. “We’re all agreeing to reduce nutrients by 40 percent.”

Tons of phosphorus
Deputy Director Carl Gephard said the 40 percent reduction target is equal to about 860 tons of phosphorus going into Lake Erie.

That amount will be divided between the U.S. and Canada, he said. The states who are part of the collaborative agreement – Ohio, Michigan and Indiana - will divide the U.S. portion based upon their contribution of phosphorus going into Lake Erie. Eventually, domestic action plans will be developed by 2018.

“Admittedly, the Maumee River is a significant contributor simply because of its size – it’s a four million acre watershed. So we’ll take that goal and develop a domestic action plan to show how we’re going to achieve that target. We’ll start the implementation process in 2016, two years ahead of when the domestic action plans are being required. So we’re trying to get ahead of the curve on this.”

The process is similar to doing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) on Lake Erie. The TMDL program, established under the Clean Water Act, focuses on identifying the sources of pollutants in rivers, streams, lakes and other surface waters that are designated as impaired. Only parts of the lake have been declared impaired.

“That would be a much longer process,” said Gephard. “And you’d have to have Michigan, Indiana, as well as Ohio onboard. Then what are you going to do about Ontario – they have half the lake if not more in some cases, and they don’t even have a TMDL program.”


Base year 2008
“We’re using 2008 as our base year from which to measure because we have a lot of good data, and if we could achieve the nutrient level that we had in 2008, it would drastically reduce the amount of algae that results in Lake Erie. So that’s our base year in which we’ll measure improvement,” said Gephard. “Another component is the development of the implementation strategy or action plan. We’re just getting ready to release it for public comment. We’ve developed this through a process of meeting with other stakeholder groups, talking to other agencies, and then we’ll put it out for comments and review. We’ll take it back, we’ll evaluate comments, make any adjustments we feel are necessary, then we’ll have a final document.”

The final document will be based on an “adaptive management” process, he said.

“While that becomes a little bit of a buzz word from time to time, it’s really saying, `Yeah, we have a plan in place, but as new data and circumstances come about, we have the ability to change that plan to make those adjustments. I think that’s going to be an important part of this as well because there’s still a lot that we really don’t understand yet. In 2014, we had one of the largest blooms of algae on record, but the microcystin toxicity was low. In 2012, we had very high microcystin toxicity, but a small algae bloom. So we’re still really trying to figure a lot of this out, and we need that flexibility to be able to adjust the plan and practices going forward,” said Gephard.

 

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