Ohio lawmakers consider consolidating Erie oversight

John Seewer
Associated Press

Toledo, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers are looking at consolidating oversight of Ohio’s efforts to battle the harmful algae in Lake Erie.

The plan calls for reorganizing the Ohio Lake Erie Commission and turning its focus toward reducing what’s feeding the algae.

The legislation being considered before the end of the year would put the commission in charge of seeing the state reach its goal of a 40 percent reduction of phosphorus going into western Lake Erie within the next 10 years.

Both Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario have pledged to make the same reduction, which researchers say will go a long way to improving water quality.

The state EPA pitched the idea of revamping the commission to make sure priorities are aligned when it comes to dealing with the algae. The agency said oversight is needed to make certain that money is being well spent and programs aren’t overlapping.

To cut down on the algae, Ohio and its neighboring states are focusing on encouraging farmers to take voluntary steps that prevent manure and fertilizers from flowing into the lake’s tributaries and reducing overflows from sewage treatment plants.

More state and federal money — along with new regulations on spreading manure and fertilizer on frozen and soggy fields — have come into the state since toxins from the algae contaminated the tap water for 400,000 people in Toledo and southeastern Michigan in 2014.

The legislation revamping the Lake Erie commission went before a state Senate committee last week. It would require the commission to produce a Lake Erie Protection and Restoration Strategy each year and eliminate its duties supervising coastal management. The proposal has the backing of farm and environmental groups and isn’t expected to see much opposition.

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.

The legislation also:

— Gives the EPA director more authority over the cleanup of hazardous waste sites and landfills and more authority to close such sites.

— Requires public water systems to show they have technical, managerial and financial capability through an asset management plan by the fall of 2018.

— Allows the EPA director to take over a public water system with less than 500 customers if it poses a public health