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Federal funds to help Lake Erie water quality

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


Two Ohio congressional representatives announced $7.4 million more in federal funds that will help to determine the cause of algal blooms on Lake Erie responsible for a water emergency this summer for Toledo-area water customers.


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio Ninth District) held a joint press conference Monday, Oct. 20, at the University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Rd. in Oregon. Federal and state Environmental Protection Agency officials joined in the announcement.

Sen. Sherrod Brown


The overall goal is to reduce phosphorus runoff into tributaries that feed Lake Erie, which usually results from nutrient breakdown in manure and the use of fertilizers on farmland.


The grants are part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), established to ensure clean, safe drinking water for communities along Lake Erie and other watersheds.


“The reason Lake Erie is the most vulnerable lake is it’s the shallowest lake, therefore the warmest lake and the most vulnerable to all kinds of pollutants,” said Sen. Brown. “The runoff into the western basin of Lake Erie comes from industry, people and community developments, and the largest catch-all, the Maumee River Basin with four million agricultural acres. That’s why we have this challenge that nobody else does.”


According to Congresswoman Kaptur, 85 percent of the Lake Erie Watershed is agricultural—with two million people and more than ten million animals. She stated that because of an advanced farmland tile drainage system, manure runoff after a rainstorm “shoots out into Lake Erie like a superhighway.”


“We need to do what’s right—and it seems like there aren’t enough resources to do what’s necessary here. This is a vast watershed, the largest on the Great Lakes” she said. “We have to get serious as a region and we have to grow a more effective approach to meet the magnitude of the challenge. We are talking about billions of dollars.”

Ohio was awarded the largest share of grant money at $7.4 million. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will receive $5.9 million and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) will receive more than $1.5 million. Michigan and Indiana agencies also received funds.


The grants will be used to:

·         Expand monitoring and forecasting to help drinking water treatment plant operators and beach managers minimize the adverse health impacts associated with algae blooms;

·         Provide more incentives for farmers in western Lake Erie watersheds to reduce phosphorus runoff that contributes to algae blooms; and

·         Improve measurement of phosphorus loads in Lake Erie tributaries.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur


The sampling and monitoring of the Maumee River, creeks, and streams is expected to provide a scientific picture of where conservation strategies and future infrastructure improvements can best be targeted to slow phosphorus and nutrient runoff into the lake.


“Great Lakes Restoration Initiative resources are used to strategically to target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem,” said Susan Hedman, U.S. EPA Region 5 administrator. “In addition to generating toxins that pose a risk to human health, harmful algal blooms harm shoreline economies and lead to low-oxygen dead zones in the deeper waters of Lake Erie.”


In early August, the city of Toledo issued a do not drink order for almost 500,000 people in Northwest Ohio when its drinking water treatment plant was adversely impacted by microcystin, a toxin generated by a harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie.


According to Ms. Hedman, the federal EPA convened a meeting shortly after the Toledo water crisis with state and federal agencies to identify their most immediate funding needs to reduce pollutants that contribute to algae blooms in western Lake Erie.


This latest round of funding will be accompanied by other grants to pay for federal agency projects to help the effort. Since the Toledo water crisis, nearly $15 million has been pledged toward various efforts to reduce the threat of algae blooms and improve drinking water quality across the region.


“The importance of taking a regional approach to address the impact of harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie is imperative,” said James Zehringer, Ohio DNR director. “These funds greatly complement Ohio’s strategic approach to improving water quality and protecting Lake Erie, one of greatest natural resources.”


“We will continue to work with our state and federal partners to improve our nutrient management efforts in Ohio to ensure the health of our waterways,” added Craig Butler, Ohio EPA director.


Brown and Ms. Kaptur both lamented the need for even more funding for other causes of Lake Erie pollution, which also contributes to algae blooms. Brown pegged the cost at properly fixing sewage overflows across northern Ohio at more than $1 billion.


“We need to address the problem of combined sewer overflow better than we have. It’s an enduring problem and a persistent problem as we starve infrastructure in this country,” Sen. Brown said. “We don’t do enough on combined sewer overflow, especially in small town Ohio.”


Ms. Kaptur stated there are two dozen to three dozen combined sewer overflow problems that need funding in northern Ohio alone. She lamented that it took her 15 years to successfully fight to receive funding for just one project.


Ms. Kaptur also noted the absence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from the cooperative tone of the press conference, calling on the federal agency to stop the practice of open lake dumping of dredging material. Scientists have stated the practice stirs up phosphorus that has settled along the lake bottom, contributing to the algae bloom problem along with the other possible causes. Ms. Kaptur and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio Fifth District) are backing a bill that would ban open lake dumping.


“That should drive the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nuts--good,” said Ms. Kaptur. “We need to think about to deal with that dredging material. It is a major question what we do with it and the solution is not cheap, but it’s part of a broader plan on how we handle the health of this lake.”

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/21/14 19:29:22 -0700.




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