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Rep. Miller touts bill to fight Great Lakes farm runoff

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Willis — Michigan’s attempts to reduce the amount of nutrients reaching the Great Lakes and contributing to the growth of toxic algae are something that should be copied by other states in the region.

That’s the message of U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, this week as she touts legislation aimed at spreading Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. The voluntary program certifies farms as using best environmental practices — methods that prevent fertilizer nutrients from running off the property and into local waterways.

Lakes inundated with nutrients such as the phosphorus found in fertilizers and livestock waste can see rapid growth of algal blooms. And in the right combination of conditions, those algal blooms can impact health and recreation. Roughly 400,000 people in Toledo and southeast Michigan were without safe tap water in August after traces of toxic algae were discovered coming from Lake Erie.

Tuesday, Miller and U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, met with locals at a farm in Willis, to discuss the success of the MAEAP and how it could be expanded to other Great Lakes states.

Since the MAEAP was conceptualized 17 years ago, the state has received 10,000 applications from farms looking to participate in the program. As of this year, 2,828 farms are active participants in the program.

“They estimate that because of that participation, in excess of 1 million tons of potential algae that would be sitting int the Great Lakes somewhere, whether it be Saginaw Bay or Lake Erie, does not exist,” Miller said. “That’s a huge number — all voluntary. So you can imagine if we could replicate that in all of the Great Lakes states.”

To do that, Miller and Walberg are promoting legislation to create the Great Lakes Assurance Program Verification Act. If approved, money would be made available to state agriculture departments to set up and run their own voluntary assurance programs.

That funding would come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. A total of $30 million would be available to the Great Lakes states over the next four years.

JLynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034