Oregon, Ohio — One of the many ideas being floated to deal with the blue-green algae that tainted Toledo’s water supply is whether the state should declare Lake Erie a distressed watershed.

Doing that would trigger a number of changes aimed at limiting agriculture runoff that’s a main source of what’s feeding the algae on the lake.

Farmers would face tougher regulations on how they store and spread manure and fertilizers on their fields. They would also need to come up with specific plans on how they would how get rid of and apply manure in the future.

The suggestion was one of many ideas discussed Friday at a meeting organized by lawmakers from Ohio’s Lake Erie region in response to the contamination of Toledo’s drinking water two weeks ago. About 400,000 people were left without clean tap water for two days after toxins produced by the algae got into the city’s water supply.

Adam Rissien, director of agricultural and water policy for the Ohio Environmental Council, told the bi-partisan group of lawmakers that the state needs to go beyond what it has already put in place to combat the algae. The state should both ban the spread of manure during winter months and declare the lake a distressed watershed

“There are enough studies to recommend some key actions,” he said.

Democrats in the Ohio House who represent areas along the lake called on Gov. John Kasich last week to give the lake a declared watershed designation.

Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said issuing that designation is worth talking about, but there are a lot of unknowns about whether it would have enough impact to justify extra costs that would be forced upon farmers.

Three years ago, the state designated Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio a distressed watershed after an outbreak of toxic algae.

About 300 farms in the lake’s watershed were banned from putting manure on their fields during the winter months and forced to make other changes.

Fisher said doing that in the Lake Erie watershed, where there are thousands of farmers, would be a much bigger undertaking and take years for all of them to develop specific plans on dealing with fertilizer and manure.


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