The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has released a report that shows that for the last five years voluntary efforts to reduce the pollution flowing into the Maumee River have had no measurable effect.
Forget reaching the goal of reducing the phosphorus runoff 20 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2025. We’ve made no progress at all toward that.
EDITORIAL: A crusade for Lake Erie
Gov. John Kasich and his Ohio EPA, led by Director Craig Butler, have evidence in hand from their own agency that the measures they assured the public for the last five years would be enough were not only not enough, they were not even making an impact.
The study shows that the Maumee watershed is by far the largest source of phosphorus and nitrogen going into Lake Erie. And about 90 percent of the phosphorus and nitrogen in the Maumee watershed come from non-point sources, which are mostly farms.
Only once in the last five years — during a very dry 2016 — did the amount of phosphorus washing away from farms into the river drop significantly.
Yet for years, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Butler insisted that all that could be done was being done voluntarily by the agricultural operations and others who needed to reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing to the lake — where it feeds toxic algae that threatens the region’s drinking water, tourism, fishing, economic development, and quality of life.
There was no need, they said, to declare the lake impaired under the terms of the Clean Water Act and trigger federal intervention. And no need for the scientific study to track pollution sources and set hard limits backed by the authority of federal law.
We now know that, all along, they knew better.
Fortunately, the Kasich administration has had a change of heart. The governor relented last month and declared the western basin impaired just ahead of a federal judge’s ruling on a lawsuit seeking to force him to do it.
Unfortunately, Ohio has lost years that could have been spent dealing with the lake pollution problem.
And now the Ohio Farm Bureau, one of the state’s most powerful lobbies, is urging that Ohio officials “go slowly.” The state must commit more time to research before enacting laws that limit pollution and require those runoff-reducing practices that the Kasich administration told us were working so well on a voluntary basis.
This is absurd and insulting.
Mr. Kasich and Mr. Butler were right about one thing: We do already know what to do to reduce the pollution that killing Lake Erie. Now the General Assembly needs to find the will to do it.
And enacting limits on phosphorus runoff will not be sufficient. The agricultural operations that have not been able to reduce their runoff so far will need real help from Columbus in the form of incentives for pollution-reducing practices, along with grants and loans to change the way they have been doing business.
The farmers are not our enemy. They feed us. But they need help — greater help than denial, rationalizatoin, and cover-up.
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