OEPA plan for reducing algal blooms criticized

Larry Limpf

News Editor

A second environmental organization has submitted critical comments to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency concerning the agency’s final draft of a plan to reduce pollutants into Lake Erie and serve as a blueprint for cleaning up persistent toxic algal blooms in the western part of the lake.
The OEPA held two hearings in Bowling Green on the agency’s draft Total Maximum Daily Load program. A TMDL is the calculation of a maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a body of water so it meets water quality standards for that particular pollutant. The goal is to cap phosphorus discharges from sources such as industrial livestock facilities, commercial fertilizer, and wastewater treatment plants to thwart the formation of algal blooms.
The agency accepted written comments on its proposed TMDL until March 8.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center said the Ohio EPA plan offers no improvements over past practices.
“This TMDL is nothing but a permission slip to spend another 10 years doing exactly the same things we have been doing for the past twenty years – spend massive sums of public money to encourage voluntary pollution reduction from agriculture, none of which have put a dent in the problem,” said Rob Michaels, Senior Attorney at ELPC. “The TMDL doesn’t even set a target for the pollutant driving the algae blooms - dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP). Instead, it only sets a target for total phosphorus, which won’t clean up the lake because DRP makes up only 20 percent of total phosphorus and is much harder to reduce.”
The ELPC noted the TMDL also fails to assign pollution reduction allocations to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), even though CAFOs discharge DRP when they apply liquid manure on fields with subsurface tile drainage, which many fields in the Maumee River watershed have.
The ELPC assertions are supported by a letter from Julie Weatherington-Rice, Ph.D., a soil scientist at Bennett & Williams Environmental, Westerville, Ohio, who has analyzed movement of water and contaminants through soils in the Maumee River watershed.
“Equally disconcerting is that the TMDL fails to include a meaningful implementation plan,” said Michaels. “Instead, it recites a laundry list of ongoing programs and initiatives that have long been failing to solve the problem. Because of these major problems, the TMDL fails to provide ‘reasonable assurances’ that necessary reductions will be achieved, as required by state and federal regulations. To make Ohio EPA and the stakeholders’ significant investments into the process worthwhile, the TMDL must be designed to succeed. Right now, it is not.”
Recently, members of Lake Erie Advocates also were critical of the draft plan, saying the proposal doesn’t adequately address run-off from large-scale factory farms.
Ohio EPA has until June 30, 2023 to submit its final TMDL to U.S. EPA.


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