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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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         The Spring 2017 Western Lake Erie Tributary Water Monitoring Summary, released last week by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, shows high levels of phosphorus headed to Lake Erie.

        Exacerbated by wet weather, the total phosphorus load in the Maumee River was elevated to more than twice the required reduction targets (40 percent by 2025) identified in the Binational Water Quality Agreement.

        Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler said more needs to be done to address the problem.

        “This report, which is consistent with testing as far back as the early 2000s, confirms that we haven’t moved the needle to meet our goal of reducing phosphorus by 40 percent by 2025 and we have more work to do,” said Butler. “While there continues to be significant taxpayer and private dollars spent on incentives and voluntary nutrient reduction programs, it is clear the actual water quality monitoring data shows that our efforts to improve Lake Erie are not over and we must continue to identify new ways to help reduce phosphorus going to the lake.”

        This is the fourth year this report has summarized water quality data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey, Heidelberg University, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio EPA. The report evaluates dissolved reactive phosphorus, total phosphorus and nitrogen and monitoring stations throughout the Lake Erie basin.

        The report also shows some watersheds are faring better than others. However, all are well above the flow weighted mean concentration target for phosphorus. The flow weighted mean concentration measures phosphorus loads relative to stream size and flow.

       

Fertilizer run-off

        Oregon City Councilwoman Sandy Bihn, who is executive director of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, said she agreed with Butler.

        “He’s right. The problem is, with all the money we’ve invested to reduce phosphorus, we’re not getting the reductions we need. Not even close. It seems to be getting worse, not better. If the dollars invested are not yielding the results, we need to reevaluate what we’re doing, and do things differently.”

        Bihn said there needs to be more accountability from the agriculture industry, since livestock manure and fertilizer run-off from farms are the primary sources of phosphorus that drain into creeks and the Maumee River before it empties into the Western Basin of Lake Erie, triggering the growth of harmful algae.

        “We have 100 new pork producers in the area, and there will be a new dairy farm in Michigan that will have more cows in the Western Basin of Lake Erie. And that means more manure applied to farm fields. It can be over-applied far beyond crop needs. That practice needs to change quickly. You can’t keep over-applying manure when you’re trying to ratchet down fertilizer on farms to reduce run-off into the lake.”

        Bihn said there are no enforceable limits on agriculture to reduce the overuse of fertilizer and manure. Instead, the government seeks compliance on a voluntary basis    

        “It’s all voluntary. There are no consequences. So if agriculture is doing it voluntarily now and we have no results, then there’s nothing that requires them to change. And that’s the most troubling.”

Impairment

        The summary comes on the heels of The Ohio EPA’s announcement 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, a toxin that was detected in Toledo’s water supply in 2014. The finding prompted the city to issue a water advisory to over 400,000 water customers in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan to avoid using tap water for two days.

        The impairment 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 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. It will establish a baseline of nutrient and phosphorus levels in the lake to reduce harmful algal blooms.

        The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. EPA will identify a science-based process for assessing impairment in Ohio’s Western Basin open waters for harmful algae.

        The baseline for microcystin, found in harmful algae, will be established through the review of satellite images taken by NOAA.

 

 

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