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Ohio groups laud commitment to strengthen Lake Erie water quality

Adam Rissien, June 12, 2015

Today the administrations of Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario announced a joint commitment to prevent toxic algae in Lake Erie from contaminating people’s drinking water and threatening the lake’s $12.9 billion tourism industry.

In a statement made at a gathering of Great Lakes state governors and Canadian provincial premiers in Quebec City, Quebec, the states and province signaled their willingness to reduce phosphorus entering the western basin by 40% by 2025. Under the agreement, roughly half of that goal, 18-20 percent, would be met by 2018.

“We applaud today’s announcement and look forward to working with the Kasich administration to help Ohio meet this crucial goal,” said Adam Rissien, OEC Director of Agricultural & Water Policy. “The commitment is an important step and offers a real opportunity to improve Lake Erie’s water quality. Its unfortunate though that Indiana chose not to join in this cooperative spirit since the state also contributes phosphorus to Lake Erie.”

The announcement follows calls for the states and province to make a strong commitment. This week, Ohio’s Lucas County commissioners voted unanimously to request the Lake Erie governors and premier commit to a net reduction of dissolved phosphorus by 40%. Additionally, the mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative issued a statement calling for at least a 40% reduction in nutrient loadings from agriculture, cities, and industry.  They point to the need for aggressive, firm, and consistent milestones and deadlines for meeting the load reduction targets.

“Today’s announcement is good news for Lake Erie’s sport fishing industry,” said Captain Paul Pacholski, President of Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. “We look forward to a strong and complete action plan that will prevent future harmful algal blooms.”

The Ohio Phosphorus Task Force — issued a report in 2013 calling for approximately a 40% reduction in phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie during the spring; that goal has been gaining scientific consensus. The International Joint Commission included the 40% reduction target in its 2014 Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority Report.

Though heavy spring rains that wash phosphorus off farm fields into the Maumee River have been shown as the primary driver of Lake Erie’s perennial algal bloom, Ohio officials announced last month that it cannot solve the problem alone and called for neighboring states and Ontario to craft their own solutions. Michigan responded by releasing a comprehensive 30-year water strategy for the state that includes phosphorus reduction.

“We welcome today’s announcement as the beginning of a comprehensive effort to reduce soluble phosphorus from all sources by 40% in order to restore Lake Erie to health,” said Joe Logan, President of the Ohio Farmers Union. “Farmers are willing to do their part to contribute to the needed reductions. We hope the Ohio Legislature will engage with this effort and we look forward to working with all parties to achieve this goal.”

The theme of this year’s Leadership Summit, “Connecting Across Borders,” focuses on economic development, transportation, and the environment.  Lt. Governor Mary Taylor will represent Ohio and sign the agreement with neighboring states ahead of a panel on the environment Saturday. That event will feature a presentation by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director, Craig Butler.

“For Lake Erie’s 40% commitment to be successful, the locations and quantities of phosphorus discharged into the lake must be determined, and ultimately algal toxins reduced,” said Sandy Bihn, Executive Director of Lake Erie Waterkeeper Alliance. “Lake Erie’s recovery decades ago was based on identifying sources and quantities of phosphorus. Then Ohio Governor Rhodes held annual meetings with all the Lake’s states and Ontario where each reported the amount and location of phosphorus reduced. The governors and premier need to repeat this Lake Erie success from decades ago with clear identification of sources and with accountability.”