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Ohio EPA Declares the Open Waters of the Western Lake Erie Basin ‘Impaired’

Something big just happened for Lake Erie. In the Ohio EPA’s 2018 Draft Water Quality Report the open waters of the western Lake Erie basin were declared ‘impaired’ or sick. This new status is an acknowledgement of the very real problems our Great Lake faces, and could pave the way for increased funding and real action to tackle toxic algae blooms head on.

The Kasich administration worked with Ohio State University’s Sea Grant College Program, Bowling Green State University, the University of Toledo, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Ohio EPA to create a science-based process for assessing the open waters of western Lake Erie. Going forward, the researchers will use NOAA satellite images to measure for high microcystis levels, or toxic blue-green algae––which is largely caused by runoff of agricultural nutrients such as phosphorus.

The new impairment status does not mean change will be immediate. According to State EPA Director, Craig Butler, “designating the open waters of the western basin as impaired does not provide a magic bullet to improve the lake, the State remains committed to our obligations under the Clean Water Act and to examine emerging science and practices that we can put in place to help improve it.”

In June 2015, Ohio formally adopted a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus levels by 2025. The OEC believes the only way we’re going to reach this goal is with a fully-funded program that focuses on every acre of land in the basin. Without the resources to implement such a plan and measure progress, we will likely see Lake Erie and local communities inundated by yearly large-scale algal blooms for the foreseeable future.

This status would bring us one step closer to meeting those goals and ensuring a cleaner, safer future for Lake Erie. The Ohio EPA is holding a public comment period until May 4, and you can submit your comments at epa.tmdl@epa.ohio.gov.