Ohio seeks to coordinate Lake Erie algae effort

John Seewer
Associated Press

Toledo, Ohio — Ohio’s environmental agency wants to better coordinate the state’s efforts to drastically reduce what’s feeding the harmful algae in Lake Erie that has fouled drinking water and increased the costs to treat it.

The plan, obtained by The Associated Press, calls for putting the Ohio Lake Erie Commission in charge of overseeing the work to cut the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake.

It’s one of several regulatory proposals being pitched to state lawmakers Wednesday.

Those include giving the state’s Environmental Protection Agency more authority over private water systems at mobile home parks and campgrounds and making it easier to find new uses for tons of sediment dredged from shipping channels along the lake.

State and federal money aimed at tackling algae in the lake has been on the rise during the past two years since toxins contaminated the tap water for 400,000 people in the Toledo area and a sliver of southeastern Michigan.

Ohio, along with Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario, agreed last year to a 40 percent reduction of phosphorus going into western Lake Erie within the next 10 years.

“Everybody’s running to the western basin with money,” said Craig Butler, director of the Ohio EPA. “We want to make sure they’re spending that money in a way that makes sense.”

Under the plan, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission would be put in charge of the state’s efforts to reach the 40 percent reduction and make sure its priorities are aligned. Within the last year, a couple of federal programs targeting farm field runoff have been announced with little coordination, Butler said.

The role of the commission, whose members include the directors of six state agencies, primarily has been to oversee state policies on water quality and coastal management, distribute money from the Lake Erie Protection Fund and represent the state on Great Lakes issues.

Other parts of the state EPA’s proposal include:

— Encouraging companies to come up with new uses for dredged sediment by changing the permitting process. The material dredged to keep open shipping channels in Toledo and Cleveland now ends up being dumped into Lake Erie or disposal facilities that are filling up fast.

— Giving the agency authority to make sure private water systems at mobile home parks and campgrounds have money to do necessary repairs. The proposal also would allow the EPA to step in and get access to that money for repairs if the owner refuses to take care of the problems.

— Requiring public water systems to review and map out all of its pipes and valves, prioritize a replacement plan and set schedules for the work.