Mich., Ohio reps ask EPA to act on Lake Erie

Associated Press

Congresswomen from Michigan and Ohio want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and designate western Lake Erie as an impaired waterway because of the harmful algae that has hurt water quality.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, both Democrats, said the action is needed because the lake needs a more coordinated federal response to the algae.

The state of Michigan in November declared its section of the lake as impaired because it said shoreline monitoring and analysis of satellite imagery showed that the western Lake Erie basin was failing to meet Michigan water quality standards. The section was declared impaired because of damage to fish and other wildlife caused by the blooms.

Outbreaks of blue-green algae, which is actually a type of bacteria that can produce toxins, have plagued the lake since the 1990s, at times coating large sections in pea-green slime.

Ohio officials have resisted calls from environmental groups and some elected officials to take the same steps. The state officials counter that the designation isn’t needed because Ohio already has made changes, such as limiting when farmers can spread fertilizer and manure on fields, to cut down the pollutants that help algae thrive.

Contamination in 2014 left more than 400,000 people in Toledo and parts of southeast Michigan unable to drink tap water for two days. The 2015 bloom was the largest on record, covering an area the size of New York City.

It’s typically up to states to develop lists of bodies of water that don’t meet federal water quality standards and designate them as impaired when too much pollution makes it unsuitable for aquatic life, recreation, public drinking water or other uses.

The U.S. EPA has the final say over the list, though, and the power to remove or add a waterway.

Kaptur and Dingell said Ohio should be brought into alignment with Michigan and that fixing the problem “requires additional legal enforcement” by the U.S. EPA.

“These blooms represent a serious health risk for our constituents,” they wrote in a letter to the EPA.

Lake Erie’s algae blooms are linked to dead zones where fish can’t survive. The algae bloom a year ago was the worst on record.

The U.S. EPA is “concerned about the growing incidence and extent of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie,” said Camron Davis, an EPA administrator who helps oversee Great Lakes issues.

But he did not specifically address the request for impairment status.