This summer, many families are looking forward to taking trips to lakes and state parks around Ohio. But a shadow hangs over our lakes and rivers: toxic algae.
Visitors to the Web site of Grand Lake St. Mary’s State Park, for example, read this warning: “High levels of algal toxins have been detected at Camper’s Beach, Windy Point Beach, East Beach, and West Beach. Swimming and wading are not recommended for the very old, the very young, and those with compromised immune systems.”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. The harmful effects of algal blooms and hypoxia — reduced oxygen in the water — are spreading across our state and nation. Similar warnings are in place in many lake and coastal regions.
And not just public health is at risk. The economic and environmental effects of harmful algae also are significant. The yearly catch of walleye, Ohio’s state fish, is declining at an alarming rate.
The Great Lakes, which provide more than 80 percent of North America’s fresh water, are becoming contaminated. U.S. seafood and tourism industries suffer estimated annual losses of $82 million because of the economic impact of harmful algal blooms.
Such blooms occur in fresh and marine waters, where excessive growth of poisonous algae can cause illness or death in humans, wildlife, and food sources such as fish and shellfish. The total cost of these blooms in the United States over the past decade: more than $1 billion.
And it’s getting worse. The frequency and distribution of harmful algal blooms are growing. We must act now, before our lakes and rivers suffer irreparable damage.
Families and businesses across Ohio are already struggling during this time of economic uncertainty. Tourism provides much needed revenue and jobs for many of our communities.
Visitors to the Lake Erie region spend more than $10.7 billion a year — nearly 30 percent of Ohio tourism industry revenues. Regional tourism supports 100,000 jobs in our state. This industry is too valuable and too important to continue to let environmental threats undermine it.
In response to these growing concerns, I have worked with my colleague Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) and others on the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013. Our bill improves and reauthorizes algal-bloom legislation enacted in 1998.
It allocates more resources to research and development of an action strategy to reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia, in the Great Lakes region and across the country.
Congress and previous administrations have recognized harmful algal blooms as one of our greatest environmental and economic threats. This issue demands our attention again, if we are to combat this problem effectively with bipartisan legislation.
We must protect Ohio’s Great Lakes and other freshwater ecosystems, as well as all the people and industries that depend on them. The legislation I propose will help save our irreplaceable environmental and economic resources, for this generation and the next one.
Republican Rob Portman is Ohio’s junior U.S. senator.