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.”