The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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         Since the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced on March 22 that it planned to designate the open waters of Lake Erie’s Western Basin as impaired for recreation due to harmful algae and the presence of mycrocystin, reaction has been mostly positive from some environmental groups and public officials.

 

        The designation would cover the basin from the Michigan/Ohio state line to the Marblehead Lighthouse. Previously, only the shoreline area of the Western Basin and drinking water intakes has been designated as impaired.

        The Kasich Administration requested input from representatives from The Ohio State University Sea Grant College Program, Bowling Green State University, University of Toledo, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. EPA to identify a science-based process for assessing impairment in Ohio’s Western Basin open waters for harmful algae. To date, no such process has existed, so Ohio has not been able to determine if the open waters of Lake Erie should be listed.

        “The decision certainly comes as welcome news following years of economic damage in Northwest Ohio,” said State Rep. Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon), who co-sponsored legislation that was introduced into the Ohio House of Representatives a week before the impairment designation that called on the U.S. EPA to declare the Western Basin of Lake Erie as impaired, “We are thankful for the governor’s political courage, and that he is joining us in defense o Ohio’s single greatest natural resource against the big-money special interest groups fighting against a solution.”

        Mike Ferner, coordinator of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), which filed a lawsuit in federal court last July to compel the U.S. EPA to designate the lake impaired, said environmentalists have for years asked the Ohio EPA to add the Western Basin of Lake Erie to its impaired list, without success.

        He said ACLE has also inundated Gov. Kasich's office with hundreds of postcards, picketed at Ohio EPA-sponsored events and worked hard to raise awareness of the issue.

       

No impact

        “The decision that took court suit is way overdue, but let’s get down to work now,” said Ferner.

The Ohio Farm Bureau looked at the issue differently. The group believes the decision to list the open waters of Lake Erie as impaired will have no immediate impact on farmers or the lake’s water quality, The professional consensus is that the designation in and of itself means little. It does not create mandatory actions, nor does it provide federal money.

       “Our biggest worry is that the public may get the impression that this is the silver bullet that will eliminate harmful algal blooms. It won’t, said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau.

        The Farm Bureau has never opposed the designation, but the organization has promoted the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement as a preferable plan for improving water quality. The agreement maps out specific targets and strategies to attain a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading into the lake by 2025.

       

Baseline

        Heidi Griesmer, Ohio EPA spokesperson, told The Press last week that the impairment designation will not provide any additional federal funds to improve the lake, and will not give authority to the Ohio EPA director to regulate agriculture.

        “That won’t change because of the impairment designation. And there are no automatic mandatory regulations for agriculture due to impairment,” said Griesmer.

        What the impairment designation will do, she said, is establish a baseline of nutrient and phosphorus levels in the lake to reduce Harmful Algal Blooms.

        “We need to know at what point is it impaired, and at what point do we take it off the impaired list,” she said.

        “Every two years, the Ohio EPA is required to come up with a report outlining the general conditions of our waterways, including impaired waterways. When a water segment is put on the impaired list, it triggers us to do a study trying to figure out the impairment problem. Then we develop a plan on how we think it should be fixed. In the open waters of Lake Erie, we did it in reverse. We have already done a study and determined where the impairment is. We developed an impairment plan that outlines how we want to fix the lake.” That adaptive management plan can change.

        The Ohio EPA, she added, does not intend to establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which is part of the Clean Water Act. A TMDL is a plan for restoring impaired waters that identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant, such as phosphorus, that the lake can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

        “We don’t intend to do a TMDL because we have a domestic action plan in place. Normally, you have to do a water quality study and go through the TMDL process. In this case, we have already developed a domestic action plan that basically does the same thing. If we were to do a TMDL, we would be retracing our steps and wasting our time,” said Griesmer. There is a TMDL in place in all the sub watersheds in the Western Basin of Lake Erie, she added.         

        “One thing we’ve had this year that we haven’t had in the past is a science based methodology to evaluate the open waters of Lake Erie for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs),” said Griesmer. “When we did our impaired waterways list in 2014 and 2016, we asked the U.S. EPA for standards. For example, if there is an impairment due to E. Coli, we know what the water quality standard is for E.Coli because we know the standard we are comparing against and what we need to get to. There is not a standard for microcystin in recreational waters or Harmful Algal Blooms. After 2016, we weren’t getting what we needed from U.S. EPA. They did not come up with that.”

        So the Ohio EPA decided to gather scientific researchers from the Ohio State University Sea Grant College Program, Bowling Green State University, the University of Toledo, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. EPA to identify a science-based process for assessing impairment in Ohio’s Western Basin open waters for harmful algae, she said.

        “We applied that methodology, and that’s why we’re proposing to declare the open waters of Lake Erie impaired for recreation due to Harmful Algal Blooms,” said Griesmer.

        The baseline for microcystin will be established through the review of satellite images taken by NOAA, she said.

        “There’s a correlation between the images of how dense the Harmful Algal Blooms are and toxicity, so they will evaluate it and determine at what density would there be enough toxins in which we could see health impacts. And that’s the methodology we’re using. We’re basing it on the NOAA satellite data, which gives us several previous years to look at to properly evaluate the lake.”

       

 

 

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