PORT CLINTON — Up to $3 million in state funding has been allocated to combat harmful algae infestation in Lake Erie, with several hundred thousand dollars committed to starting a program this month to help farmers reduce hazardous runoff during rainstorms, officials said Tuesday.
About $200,000 of the Healthy Lake Erie Fund has been appropriated for a program of soil testing, nutrient monitoring, application certification, and installation of controlled drainage devices on Ohio farmland that will help curb phosphorous runoff into lakes and tributaries, said Karl Gebhardt, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The money was put forward to match a $900,000 federal grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Lake Erie Restoration Initiative Fund for which state officials have applied.
"If we get the grant, we will do more," Mr. Gephardt said.
Mr. Gebhardt was a panelist Tuesday at a public forum at the Lake Erie Welcome Center on State Rt. 53 in Ottawa County with other officials including state. Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who sponsored the fund and was host for the forum.
Most of the remainder of the $3 million has not been specifically allocated.
Officials said a spending plan is being assembled by a task force to address areas of importance, and a communications package will be released next week to outline the issues.
The program addresses the algae in Lake Erie brought on by runoff from farmland and effluent from wastewater treatment plants and leaking septic systems that increase phosphorus levels. Last year's algal blooms, which coated the lake's western basin with thick, bright-green film, was the worst in decades, officials said.
More than 50 people attended the forum, including Terry Shankland of Toledo, who said he spent the day before "scraping slime" off the water near his 10 acres along the Ottawa River. He chastised the panel for not moving more quickly and pleaded with its members to address open-lake dumping of dredged sediment from Toledo Harbor and other shipping channels by the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We have studied this to death for years — we have to do something mechanical, physical," Mr. Shankland said. "It's getting shallower every year. [What we are doing now] is not working; we are building a golf course out there."
Phil Gutkoski of Catawba Island Township, a retired charter-boat captain who has lived in the area for 50 years, was equally concerned, but with a different issue. He presented the panel with information he had gathered about giant "factory farms" in southeast Michigan that reportedly are producing massive livestock-waste runoff.
"No one is doing anything and it is going down through the ground into drainage ditches, creeks, and rivers," he said. He said good fishing nowadays requires boaters to head east or north near Canada. "The fishing grounds that used to be here and productive just aren't anymore."
Officials promised that things were moving forward not just on the agricultural end but in other areas as well. Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally said his department worked with universities and other state organizations to begin a raw sewage monitoring program this summer at the Maumee River's mouth and that real-time monitors soon will be placed in different areas of Lake Erie that check water quality every 15 minutes.
It's a process that will take more than this year, or next, they said.
"We want to make sure we are doing the right things now so that in 15 or 20 years we don't say, ‘Why didn't we learn our lesson?'?" said David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Short-term, officials say a Web site that reports algae issues and water advisories is updated daily, http://www.ohionowcast.info/index.asp, that signs are posted at beaches, and that the OSU Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie's Gibraltar Island now performs most water testing on site instead of shipping samples to Columbus.
Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted last week that this year's Lake Erie algae bloom will be only about one-tenth the size of last year's, officials cautioned that the problem has come and gone before over decades and should not be ignored after one year of good news.
"We can't rely on that, nor do we think we should," Mr. Gardner said.
Contact Roberta Redfern at: email@example.com or 419-680-4824.