Ohio lawmakers make move on algae despite limited facts
TOLEDO, Ohio — Ohio’s lawmakers are taking their first step toward slowing the spread of algae in Lake Erie since a toxin contaminated the drinking water for more than 400,000 people.
Legislation approved in the state House would ban farmers in much of northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on top of frozen or saturated fields. Another provision would set new rules on dumping dredged sediment in the lake.
Both are thought to contribute to the algae blooms that produce dangerous toxins. But how much those proposed changes — they still need approval in the Ohio Senate — would help isn’t certain.
Research is limited on how much of the phosphorus that feeds the algae blooms comes from dredging and from livestock farmers spreading manure onto frozen and snow-covered fields in the winter.
Still, both are thought to be factors and pressure has been rising on state and federal officials to fix the troubled lake in the months since toxins from the algae left residents around Toledo and in southeastern Michigan without water for two days in August.
“We need to start doing something,” said Rep. Mike Sheehy, a Democrat from the Toledo suburb of Oregon who called for a ban on the spread of manure on frozen ground well before Toledo’s water crisis.
“It’s not something that all of a sudden somebody just thought up,” he said. “There’s some pretty good science that suggest those are major contributors.”
The Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service says less than 20 percent of agriculture-related phosphorus in western Lake Erie comes from livestock manure; the rest is from commercial fertilizer. This past spring, Ohio put in place a law requiring most farmers to undergo training and be certified by the state before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields, though that requirement is not yet in effect.