Ohio rolls out plan to fight Lake Erie algae

John Seewer
Associated Press

Toledo, Ohio — Ohio’s strategy for taking a big bite out of what’s feeding the toxic algae in Lake Erie will lean heavily on programs and regulations put in place during the last few years and making sure they work.

The plan, obtained by The Associated Press, does not include any new regulations on the farm industry or additional money, but it does suggest coming up with a comprehensive funding plan for programs targeting the algae blooms threatening drinking water.

It also calls for more water quality monitoring and oversight to determine what’s most effective.

The plan being rolled out Wednesday is the state’s blueprint for reaching a 40 percent reduction in the phosphorus runoff that fuels the algae in the lake’s western end.

Ohio, Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario signed a deal last year to sharply reduce the runoff within the next 10 years.

It’s a significant step in the efforts to slow down the algae blooms — linked to phosphorus from farm fertilizers, livestock manure and sewage treatment plants — that have been popping up more and more during the summer.

The blooms have contaminated drinking water supplies, turned the waters a shade of green that looks like pea soup and contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive.

Ohio officials estimate that $2 billion has been spent on drinking water treatment and reducing nutrients going into the state’s part of the lake since 2011.

Some of the changes the state has made still are being put in place. They include prohibiting farmers in northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on frozen and rain-soaked fields and requiring training before they can use commercial fertilizers.

Ohio’s plan for reducing phosphorus over the next decade also will look at putting more rural and agriculture land into long-term conservation programs designed to reduce farm runoff.

A final version of the plan is expected in mid-July following a monthlong period to collect comments from the public and make any revisions.