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Published: Thursday, 10/4/2012

War on algae

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deserves commendation for keeping up the fight against western Lake Erie’s harmful algae blooms, even though this year’s extended drought resulted in little algae. Public-health and environmental policy should not be dictated by short-term weather anomalies.

The EPA showed its continued interest in long-term solutions last week when it made seven grants of nearly $200,000 to $800,000 to the University of Toledo, Ohio State University, the Nature Conservancy, Ohio’s EPA, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Work will focus on efforts to keep phosphorus and other nutrients out of area waterways, including the Blanchard River, Wolf Creek (a Lake Erie tributary that flows through Maumee Bay State Park), and River Raisin.

The focus goes beyond farmland: The Ohio EPA will work with Lucas County officials to manage and reduce stormwater runoff.

Funding for the grants comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative created by President Obama. The initiative address ready-made projects, many of which were developed but not funded during former President George W. Bush’s administration.

Congress is expected to fund the initiative at $300 million for the third straight year, down from the first-year allocation of $475 million. That’s not enough for Mr. Obama to keep pace with his 2008 pledge of $5 billion for Great Lakes restoration work within eight years. Yet it’s still an mportant commitment.

Now Washington should take the next step and provide more aid to monitor nutrient concentrations, especially at a Maumee River station near Waterville operated by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research. Most funding for the effort now comes from the fertilizer industry.

The lab must scrape together a patchwork of grants to keep intact northwest Ohio’s longest and most comprehensive effort to gauge farm runoff. Sustained, enhanced government funding would reduce potential conflicts of interest.

The U.S. EPA’s algae-fighting grants are an important response to an issue that affects public health, fishing, property values, and jobs. But drought or no drought, more needs to be done.

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