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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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        State Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and State Representative Steve Arndt (R-Port Clinton), proposed a series of clean water and conservation initiatives they think will get Ohio on track to reduce nutrient loading into Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025.

        The representatives proposed the plan at the Ottawa County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Lake Erie Forum at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds.

        The 40 percent reduction was pledged in the Western Basin of Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement signed two years ago between Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, with 20 percent reduction by 2020 called an “aspirational” goal.

        “Ohio has made some progress,” said Arndt, “but we need to do more to accelerate that place of progress so we can reach our commitment toward a cleaner lake.”

        Gardner and Arndt acknowledged Ohio EPA’s leadership in assisting area water treatment plants following the Toledo water crisis of 2014. In addition, millions of dollars in collaborative algae research at Ohio colleges and universities, including Ohio State’s Stone Lab program, have been implemented by the Department of Higher Education. They believe better tributary monitoring, funded efforts to reduce open lake dumping of dredged materials, fertilizer applicator certification mandates and passage of the Clean Lake Erie act of 2015 are making a difference,

        “We want to do more – we can do more,” Gardner, the senate majority Floor leader said. “We want to be a strong partner with the agricultural community and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the EPA to support ideas on which we can all agree.”

       

       

2020 Plan

        The Clean Lake 2020 Plan includes:

  • A significant new Clean Lake Capital Fund that may appropriate up to $100 million per year for five years for both Lake Erie algae reduction, and agricultural best practices. Funding may include establishing facilities to improve manure application processes, projects to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials, funds to local governments for water quality-based green infrastructure, water management projects to help reduce nutrient and sediment runoff impacting the lake and other strategies.
  • A new Soil and Water Support Fund, with some of the funding provided directly to soil and water conservation districts to assist farmers, in soil testing, nutrient management plans, installing edge of filed drainage devices, encouraging inserting of nutrients (subsurface placement), and agreed to conservation methods that may include riparian buffers, filter strips and cover crops.

        “These are not brand new ideas, just a greater sense of urgency to implement them,” Arndt said. “There appears to be widespread agreement with state officials, environmental and agriculture groups, tourism advocates and business leaders that many of these strategies will make a big difference.”

        The representatives believe the Clean Lake 2020 Plan can serve to make Ohio’s Domestic Action Plan as effective as possible in reaching its goals, as facilitated by the Lake Erie Commission.

EPA support

        The Ohio EPA has been working on getting the initiatives introduced in the Legislature for over a year.

        The agency has sought the institution of a statewide phosphorus permit limit for wastewater treatment plants to address threats to public water systems, recreation on inland lakes, and other downstream problems associated with excess nutrients. Small increases in phosphorus can significantly increase algae growth, which has a drastic negative impact on water quality. Algae growth affects public health, limits recreational use of inland waters, reduces property values, impacts businesses, and has increased costs to rate payers for drinking water. Currently, the major publicly owned treatment works in the Ohio Lake Erie basin have a total phosphorus limit of 1 mg/L. Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota have also placed a limit on phosphorus at 1 mg/L or lower.

        “Right now, the major wastewater treatment plants that discharge directly to the lake have a phosphorus limit of one milligram per liter. This bill would make that limit the same for all major discharges across the state, throughout the rest of the Lake Erie Basin and the Ohio River Basin,” Heidi Griesmer, spokesperson for the Ohio EPA, told The Press last week.

        The second point of interest deals with “watersheds in distress,” she said.

        The modification of the “watershed in distress” designation creates a practical tool for the state and its partners to use to target specific challenges within watersheds in Ohio. The bill expands the definition of “agricultural pollution” to include fertilizer and directs the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to establish rules for “watersheds in distress” that are caused by fertilizer. Those rules will also include requirements for the creation of nutrient management plans that address fertilizer use in those watersheds. The bill also establishes a process for Ohio EPA to share information with ODA regarding unsanitary water conditions so that proper investigatory action may occur if it is found to be necessary by ODA.

        “It would add the word `fertilizer’ to the definition of agricultural pollution. Right now, it’s just manure,” said Griesmer. “Adding fertilizer would enable agriculture to write rules that would define how they would designate `watersheds in distress’ in the Lake Erie Basin. That would then trigger nutrient management plans on behalf of farms. They would have to determine what would be included in the nutrient management plans. After they go through the rule-making process identifying certain watersheds within the basin that are larger contributors to the problem, farms would be required to take additional steps to reduce their nutrient pollution.”

 

 

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