Shared from the 4/21/2018 Sandusky Register eEdition

Study: Little progress made in curbing nutrients feeding algal blooms


A new statewide study suggests Ohio has made little progress in reducing nutrients that flow into Lake Erie and feed harmful algal blooms.

The Ohio EPA study, “Nutrient Mass Balance Study for Ohio’s Major Rivers,” which is available online, examines the amount of nutrients being dumped into Lake Erie by various tributaries, including the Maumee, Portage, Sandusky and Vermilion rivers.

It shows little progress in reducing phosphorus levels from 2013 to 2017, suggesting more action is needed to deal with the problem, said Heidi Griesmer, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA.

The report shows the amount of phosphorus put into the lake by the Maumee River went up from 2013-2017, from about 2,200 metric tons in 2013 to about 3,000 in 2017. The Maumee River watershed has been identified as the prime culprit in feeding harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, and the study shows it puts more phosphorus into the lake than any other Ohio river.

Phosphorus put into the lake by the Sandusky River fell from about 700 metric tons in 2013 to about 600 in 2017.

Griesmer said scientists at the Ohio EPA said the Sandusky River watershed had less rainfall last year than the Maumee, producing less runoff. In addition, phosphorus from “point sources” such as wastewater treatment plants and industrial plants that feed into the Sandusky River has been reduced, Griesmer said.

Griesmer said agency officials believe the new study shows the need for proposed new legislation, backed by Ohio EPA director Craig Butler, that would allow the state to impose new regulations on farming practices in parts of the Lake Erie watershed.

Specifically, Butler wants to allow the state to require farmers in areas defined as “watersheds in distress” to submit nutrient management plans for how they use fertilizer on their land.

Butler asked state Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, to carry the bill.

Arndt said the bill hasn’t been written and submitted yet. There is concern about how a recent ruling by U.S. District Judge David Carr, demanding faster action by the U.S EPA on cleaning up Lake Erie, might affect provisions of a proposed new state law, Arndt said.

There have been other recent suggestions on how to reduce nutrients going into Lake Erie.

Ardnt and Gardner have submitted their own proposal, which they dubbed The Clean Lake 2020 Plan.

The two said they want to establish a new Clean Lake Capital Fund to spend up to $100 million a year for five years to reduce Lake Erie algae and promote best farming practices.

The plan also includes creating a new Soil and Water Support Fund. It would provide funding to soil and water conservation districts to promote good farming practices to reduce nutrients getting into the lake.

Earlier this month, a local prairie grass expert, John Blakeman, and two University of Akron officials told the Register Iowa State University research has shown planting buffer strips of prairie grass is very effective in filtering out phosphorus from farm field runoff. Ohio should try to find out if similar native grass plantings would work to reduce runoff here, they said.

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