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article imageOhio asks neighboring states for help as Lake Erie turns green

By Karen Graham     May 9, 2015 in Environment
Toledo - Algae blooms in Lake Erie have become a common occurrence the past few years. The main cause is agricultural pollution, but putting the problem on Ohio's doorstep will not get the Lake cleaned up. It's going to take a concerted effort by several states.
The pollutants flowing into the western part of Lake Erie every year, feeding the toxic algae blooms and turning the water green have a number of sources.
The pollutants come from farm fields in Michigan and Indiana as well as leaky septic tanks in southern Canada and Detroit’s waste-water plant. This is why Ohio's governor is asking the state's neighbors for a little help. The algae blooms have also been linked to "dead zones," oxygen-depleted areas of the lake where fish cannot live.
Ohio is asking its neighbors to put their heads together and look into what they can do to reduce the pollutants, mainly phosphorus used in fertilizers, that end up in the lake's tributaries.
"We can't do it alone, and they can't do it alone," said Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, according to The Guardian. "I think everybody really understands that we need collaboration."
Butler says that ongoing discussions with officials from Indiana, Michigan, and southern Ontario have mainly centered on setting goals focusing on how to reduce phosphorus in waterways, and not on any specifics on what needs to be done. "We want everybody to come up with their own prescription based on whatever symptom they have," he said.
Ohio stepped up and last year adopted regulations on livestock manure and commercial fertilizers. This legislation was the result of studies that showed two-thirds of phosphorus in lake Erie came from agriculture. Part of the new regulations require that farmers in northern Ohio have training in the use of commercial fertilizers. They are also prohibited from spreading fertilizers on frozen or rain-soaked fields.
The ball is now in Michigan and Indiana's court, and whether or not they will come up with similar regulations remains to be seen. Officials from both states say they already have regulations in place to reduce phosphorus from running into lakes and rivers.
Dan Wyant, Michigan's environmental quality director says the state has a voluntary program to help farmers reduce phosphorus runoff, and the state is in the process of closing a "loophole" in how farm manure is handled. "There's not a silver bullet to solve this problem," he said. "More has to be done."
Barry Sneed, a spokesman for Indiana's Department of Environmental Management, says the state wants to make sure the pollution reduction efforts are efficient. The state has asked Ohio officials for more information about how they see the states working together,
All three states have $17.5 million in federal funding that came about last fall after toxic algae contaminated the drinking water of 400,000 people in Toledo and Southeastern Michigan. The plan is for the states to plant strips of grass or cover crops to help absorb and filter the phosphorus.
Summer hasn't set in yet, but spring rains have already been having an unwanted effect on Lake Erie. It is now up to the three states to see what they can do to keep the lake healthy.
More about Ohio, Lake erie, algae blooms, Pollutants, Phosphorus
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