Press Release

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Statement of Adam Rissien, OEC Director of Agricultural & Water Policy on the 2014 Lake Erie Toxic Algae Forecast

Adam Rissien, July 10, 2014

We Need to Take Major Steps to Reduce Nutrient Pollution, or Forecasts like this will become commonplace

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast an above-average harmful bloom of algae to spread across portions of Lake Erie by September this year. The 2014 bloom is anticipated to be similar to those of 2009 and 2010 according to models by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The forecast was announced this morning at a briefing at Ohio Sea Grant’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in the western basin of Lake Erie.

“Today we clearly heard harmful algal blooms will continue to be a regular occurrence that threatens our drinking water and takes away economically crucial recreational opportunities around Lake Erie. Remember in 2013, 2,000 residents in Carroll Township, just east of Toledo, were ordered by public officials not to drink their tap water due to algae toxins. While this year’s bloom may not be as severe as 2011 or 2013, the threat from algae toxins is still significant. It is unacceptable that nutrient pollution has been allowed to pollute Lake Erie so significantly that we can no longer rely on having safe drinking water year-to-year without installing costly treatment options or hooking up alternative sources.”

We can’t afford to get to the point that we need regular updates or even a cell phone app for Lake Erie’s toxic algae forecasts.  While these are useful, what we really need is an action plan to solve this problem, once and for all.

Nutrient pollution comes from many sources, but only a few – farm fields and sewage treatment plants – contribute the lion’s share of the problem. But not all nutrient pollution is treated the same by regulators. The grave problem facing Lake Erie necessitates an “all hands on deck” clean-up approach, with all sources of nutrient pollution held to the same regulatory standards. Unfortunately, while wastewater treatment plants adhere to strict regulations, runoff from farm fields – the number one source of nutrients flowing into Lake Erie – gets a special pass. Allowing nutrients to flow unabated into the lake is simply unacceptable.

The good news is that a recent poll sponsored by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, and Ohio Environmental Council shows two thirds (66%) of Ohio voters support the state enacting stronger regulations to prevent run-off pollution from farms that ends up in the state’s rivers and streams. Only one-quarter (25%) oppose the state enacting new regulations on farm field run-off. The proportion of voters who strongly support this policy (43%) is nearly three times of those who strongly oppose (15%). Majorities of Republicans (51%), Democrats (75%) and independents (72%) indicated support of stronger state regulations on clean water. The survey of 805 general election voters was conducted by Fallon Research of Ohio, from questions written by Belden Russonello Strategists LLC in Washington, DC.

Our legislators and administrators need to level the playing field and stop giving the agriculture industry a free pass. First they need to stop the practice of spreading manure on frozen and snow-covered ground. Regulators continue to allow farms to spread manure as fertilizer in late fall and winter months onto land that is frozen or snow covered. However, heavy fall and spring rains wash much of the manure off the land and into waterways before it even reaches the soil. We also need to close the manure loophole. Current regulations allow thousands of tons and millions of gallons of manure to be spread on land by people with no training or expertise on how to keep it from polluting our streams. This is done through a practice of selling or transferring manure from one operation to another, and even though the manure is supposed to be applied according to best management practices, there is no verification of this.

Closing the manure loophole and ending winter applications will demonstrate our elected leaders at the Statehouse are serious about protecting Lake Erie, and ensuring people have safe drinking water and places to recreate.”