Ohio officials target rivers to stem algae blooms


COLUMBUS — Ohio environmental officials are focusing on six major streams as they try to cut pollutants that help toxic algae thrive in the state’s lakes and other waterways.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has for years worked to cut manure and fertilizer runoff from Ohio farms and discharge from sewage treatment plants that contribute to poisonous blooms of blue-green algae in Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio.

The state EPA will focus on the Scioto, Great Miami, Maumee, Sandusky, Cuyahoga and Wabash rivers in an effort to curtail runoff that pollutes not only Ohio lakes but the Gulf of Mexico, too, the Columbus Dispatch reported today.

Toxic algae grow thick in water polluted with phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage, manure and fertilizers. They produce liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and have killed pets and wildlife. Dead and decomposing algae rob water of oxygen, creating “dead zones” where nothing can live.

The blooms kill fish populations, stink up beaches and put a dent in the lakes’ lucrative sport-fishing and tourism industries.

Ohio EPA officials have so far followed the federal framework, which encourages working to improve specific streams.

Brian Hall, assistant chief of surface water for the Ohio EPA, said the agency will measure pollution in each stream and take steps to reduce it.

The Scioto River in central Ohio and the Wabash River in Great Miami in southwestern Ohio are associated with runoff that contributes to a vast “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico every summer. A 2007 U.S. Geological Survey analysis put Ohio among nine states that supply 75 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus to the Gulf via the Mississippi River.

Toxic algae advisories went up last week at Grand Lake St. Marys, Ohio’s largest inland lake, warning visitors to stay out of the water. The ODNR said recent test results showed toxin levels higher than the recommended threshold.

State officials said recently they are concerned that the wet Ohio spring will again bring toxic algae problems back to Lake Erie. Heavy rain this year in northwestern Ohio has nearly doubled the average amount of phosphorus that washes off farm fields each spring and flows down the Maumee River to the lake.