Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Nally says after a rainfall, up to eight billion gallons of raw sewage enters Lake Erie. Nally said three billion gallons enters from Michigan alone.
Ohio state officials are appropriating $3 million dollars to create the Healthy Lake Erie Fund in an effort to establish regulatory control with the long term goal of reducing pollution entering the lake.
The fund will be used by the state director of natural resources in consultation with the directors of agriculture and EPA to implement non-statutory recommendations from an Agriculture Nutrients and Water Quality task force.
The ODNR director is to give priority to recommendations that encourage farmers to adopt agricultural production guidelines commonly known as 4R nutrient stewardship practices. Funds may also be used for enhanced soil testing in the Western Lake Erie Basin, monitoring the quality of Lake Erie and its tributaries, and conducting research and establishing pilot projects that have the goal of reducing invasive algae blooms in Lake Erie.
In 2013, the ODNR director may use $350,000 of the $3 million to monitor inland lakes and stream water quality in Ohio.
The fund is sponsored by District 6 State Representative Randall Gardner, who hosted a forum on the subject at the Lake Erie Welcome Center in Port Clinton Wednesday.
Among over 100 guests attending were watershed directors, including Lake Erie Western Basin director Sandy Bihn, outdoor writers, property owners, special interest groups, representatives of the boating and fishing industry, inventors and research scientists, and local and state officials.
Bihn suggested that 12 monitoring locations should be established in streams and rivers from Defiance on the Maumee River to sites near Sandusky. She also suggested that technology could bring much-needed short term relief to the invasive algae issue.
East Toledo Birmingham neighborhood resident Peter Ujvagi, now Lucas County administrator and former state legislator, was in attendance, as was Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak.
Disillusioned with government
The forum was led by a panel that included Gardner, District 2 State Senator Mark Wagoner, and the directors of the ODNR, EPA, and ODA.
“I think it is important to acknowledge that your involvement is recognized,” Gardner said. “I know that some of you are disillusioned with government nowadays — I just want to make sure that it doesn’t happen with this — something that is important to our regional economy.
“I realize there is going to be some controversy and when you are doing something important, there are going to be some controversial issues,” Gardner added.
ODNR Director Karl Gebhardt said agriculture plays a big role because of its use of fertilizer, which drains into Lake Erie and provides nutrients to invasive algae. Gebhardt cautioned that agriculture is not the only source of lake pollution nor is it the only source of the phosphorous contained in fertilizers.
Among issues discussed were open lake dumping, dredging, factory farms in Southeast Michigan, field tiling and drainage, and the use of filter strips on crop fields. One man in attendance claimed that 20,000 cows and 10,000 hogs at Michigan factory farms produced more waste than the City of Chicago.
However, Gebhardt said farmers will have to re-shift their thinking when considering the usage of phosphorous in fertilizers.
Among 117 pages of task force recommendations included encouraging crop farmers to increase monitoring of soil nutrients — something in which Gebhardt said is required of livestock farmers but not crop farmers, although many crop farmers are regularly employing soil monitoring systems now.
“We continue to work on the assumption — you know, that we just seem to think we can continue farming the way our grandfathers did. Well, now things are different,” Gephardt said.
“We just don’t want to come in with a legislative hammer and say, ‘Thou shalt do this,’ so that’s why we want to make some changes on the legislative and regulatory side.”
Even though algae levels in the lake were down this year, for the first time in over a decade, Gardner warned that algae could continue to spread if something is not done about it, calling the situation a “multi-faceted problem.”
All three directors and legislative representatives said the state will look into incentives for farmers, including possible tax credits, so agriculture is not taking on all the financial burden.
Next week, the state is launching the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative, which will include a branding on behalf of the agricultural community. Officials say it is important to show the agricultural community they have a partner.
“This is a big problem,” ODA Director David Daniels said. “We’ve heard almost everybody here identify multiple issues — it affects people making a living not only on the land but on the lake as well. Nobody is taking this lightly. Everybody is working on their piece of the puzzle.
“We’re dealing with about a half pound of phosphorous in an acre of water. We want farmers to be productive — we raise enough food in this sector to feed the entire world. We want good government in the lake and ag community.”