November 22, 2014


Ohio takes first step to slow algae on Lake Erie

An algal bloom runs from the western end of Lake Erie to Lorain in October 2011. CHRONICLE FILE

An algal bloom runs from the western end of Lake Erie to Lorain in October 2011. CHRONICLE FILE

TOLEDO — Ohio is taking its biggest step yet toward tackling the algae fouling Lake Erie.

But there’s no guarantee it will cut down on the contaminants feeding the algae or slow its spread, which poses a threat to the fish, drinking water and tourism. And it will take several years to determine whether the new rules focusing on farmers will make a difference.

The law will require most farmers to undergo training and be certified by the state before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields.

The goal is to decrease the amount of phosphorus-based fertilizer that runs off fields into streams and rivers and then feeds the algae in Lake Erie.

“It’s a positive step forward, but it’s a small step,” said Kristen Kubitza, director of water policy for the Ohio Environmental Council.

The law doesn’t take effect until 2017 and won’t force farmers to use less fertilizer. There also won’t be any inspections to make sure farmers are applying the fertilizer correctly. That part is up to them.

The primary focus of the legislation is centered on educating and training the agriculture industry about the need to use new techniques to reduce runoff.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture industry groups have been asking farmers to take proactive steps for more than a year and do their part to reduce phosphorus runoff before government regulators step in and impose their own restrictions.

Farm organizations in the state have put $1 million toward research to determine how to keep phosphorus on the fields and out of the waterways. Once completed, it will help teach farmers the best times and ways to apply fertilizer.

“That’s where we need to start,” said Jerry Bambauer, president of the Ohio Soybean Association.

He said farmers care about the environment and want to see expensive fertilizers stay on their fields instead of being washed into streams. He also thinks the farm community will be more willing to solve the problem once they know why it’s happening.

“We’d like to have it solved tomorrow, but it’s going to take time no matter how we do it,” Bambauer said. “It can’t be cleared up overnight. We just don’t want it to get worse.”

Algal blooms during the summer have become more frequent and troublesome in Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.

Toxins produced by the algae have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive. There already is concern that another large algae outbreak could crop up this year following heavy spring rains that washed more pollutants into the lake’s tributaries.

Environmental groups and lawmakers in Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region will be watching to see if the voluntary steps farmers are being asked to take will be enough to turn around the algae problem.

The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, released a report in August that said urgent steps are needed, recommending that governments in both countries require “best management practices” to reduce phosphorus applied to fields.

It also suggested banning the spread of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground.

That idea was pulled from the legislation approved in Ohio.

Rep. Mike Sheehy, a Democrat from the Toledo suburb of Oregon, said not including rules for regulating manure makes the law less effective.

“It’s one of those issues that we cannot as a state continue to ignore,” he said. “Until we address the issue, we’re playing with poison.”

  • stop ur whining part deux

    This has really become a problem and it is already effecting our states tourism. The beaches in Maumee Bay State Park are not safe for swimming or boating. We already under use tourism in Ohio and until this problem is solved it will continue to detour people from coming here. I did not even touch on what it is doing to fish and out drinking water.

    More needs to be done to prevent all this run off.

    • Phil Blank

      Grand Lake St Marys state park had if so bad you couldn’t fish, swim or boat in the water.

      • stop ur whining part deux

        same with Maumee Bay, & East Harbor. I almost let me dog lose to run, would have killed her, no doubt in my mind.

  • Phil Blank

    Are they sure its caused by phosphorus and not nitrogen, another fertilizer.

    Today, nearshore waters are among the most fertilized ecosystems on Earth, as a result of the increased delivery of nutrients that have accompanied upland development. Septic systems, fertilizers and atmospheric deposition (acid rain and air pollution) are major contributors of the nutrient, nitrogen. In many areas nitrogen travels via groundwater to coastal waters where it can dramatically change the functioning of a coastal ecosystem.

    Generally, nitrogen is in low supply in coastal waters and is therefore considered the nutrient that limits plant growth. This means that given adequate sunlight, the major nutrient that regulates plant growth rates is nitrogen. If the supply of nitrogen increases, some algae (e.g., certain kinds of phytoplankton and seaweeds, or macroalgae) take up the nitrogen and grow very quickly. Directly or indirectly, their rapid growth affects other organisms in the water.

    “Eutrophication” describes a spectrum of ecological effects caused by an excess of nutrients, that alters the functioning of an aquatic ecosystem. Some rapidly growing algae cloud the water, severely limiting light penetration. Others disproportionately consume oxygenor decompose in sufficient quantity to deplete the water’s oxygen supply, leading to fish kills. These effects degrade the aesthetic qualities of coastal waters that humans treasure, and also threaten recreational uses of waterways and commercial harvest of fish and shellfish.