Compromise close on Lake Erie algae legislation
Toledo, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers are close to agreeing on a plan aimed at reducing farm runoff that feeds the toxic algae in Lake Erie, but it's still not known how it will impact farmers.
Leaders in the Ohio House and Senate expect to vote this coming week on what would be the first legislation passed to slow the spread of the algae since last August, when a toxin contaminated the drinking water for more than 400,000 people in northeastern Ohio and southeastern Michigan.
The plan includes banning farmers from spreading livestock manure on frozen and rain-soaked fields or when heavy rain is in the immediate forecast — something environmental groups and farm organizations agree shouldn't be done.
The question being debated is whether farmers should be punished for violating the ban. The Ohio Senate's version of the legislation included penalties for repeat violators, but lawmakers in the House made changes that would give farmers a way to avoid those penalties.
Environmental groups said the changes amounted to loopholes that will diminish the efforts to improve water quality while lawmakers in the House said their plan was designed to give farmers more time to deal with the added costs of constructing storage to hold manure when their fields are covered with snow and rain.
The House would allow farmers to avoid penalties if they ask soil or officials water for help with developing a solution for getting rid of the manure.
The field runoff from manure and chemical fertilizers is one of the main contributors to the algae blooms, which have been linked to oxygen-depleted dead zones in the lake where fish can't survive.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, said legislators and the governor's administration have worked to find a resolution "that actually has some teeth and will make a difference."
The legislation being proposed also would end within five years the dumping of material dredged from northern Ohio's harbors and rivers into the lake, which is also thought to be a source of the phosphorus that feeds the algae.
Water plants would also be required to monitor phosphorous levels under the bill.