More than voluntary

Clean-water bill doesn't go far enough


A clean-water bill recently approved by the Ohio Senate promotes voluntary action by farms to control agricultural runoff into Lake Erie. The measure is appropriate as far as it goes — but it doesn’t go far enough.

The bill is no more than a partial step in the battle to control the pollution that feeds toxic algae blooms that harm fishing, drinking water, and tourism in northern Ohio. Tougher, mandatory cleanup action also is required.

The bill sets up a voluntary certification program for farms, but it applies only to the use of synthetic fertilizer — not to manure from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Scientists cite the latter operations as a major source of phosphorus-laden manure runoff that feeds noxious algae growth.

The bill gives too much away, including protection from being sued, to draw farmers into the voluntary certification program. When state House members take up the Senate bill, they need to strengthen it.

Under a provision of the Senate bill offered by Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), $1.6 million could be spent on soil and water conservation, and development of options to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ practice of dumping silt from Toledo’s shipping channel into Maumee Bay open waters. For years, charter boat operators have criticized such open lake dumping.

Most animals raised for human consumption grow up in industrialized feeding operations. They are housed in high-density settings, and given food laced with antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease.

A 2011 academic study of a typical CAFO with 2,500 head of swine found that a 30-minute cleaning of barns and alleys produced about 270,000 gallons of flushwater and manure every day. Such industrial agricultural runoff “has become the leading source of nutrients that freshwater algae thrive on nationwide,” reports the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Scientists say runoff during the cold spring of 2011 contributed to record-setting algae blooms in Lake Erie that year. No one knows how much manure will be flushed into Maumee Bay and Lake Erie along with the snowmelt this year. What is clear is that the Senate’s clean-water bill needs more teeth.