COLUMBUS — Two state lawmakers have proposed borrowing $500 million over five years to fuel efforts to dam the flow of nutrients feeding the toxic algal blooms that each summer coat parts of Lake Erie in a green slime.
The move is designed to put some money behind past legislation that aims to push farmers toward smarter use of manure and chemical fertilizers, finding alternatives to open lake dumping for material dredged from ports and harbors, and otherwise tackling the problem.
The Clean Lake Capital Fund, proposed by Reps. Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton) and Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), would funnel $100 million a year into such projects.
The idea is a scaled-back version of a $1 billion, 10-year plan proposed by Mr. Gardner three years ago that failed to win Gov. John Kasich’s support. That proposed constitutional amendment would have required approval by voters.
This time the idea is for Ohio to fund such projects similar to the way it funds brick-and-mortar projects. The latest $2.6 billion, two-year capital budget is already awaiting the governor’s signature, so Mr. Gardner said he will look for other avenues to have the bill funded.
The lawmakers are also proposing a new Soil and Water Support Fund that has no dollar value attached. It would help local conservation districts finance such things as soil testing, enacting farm nutrient management plans, installing drainage devices on the edges of crop fields, creating vegetation buffer zones, and planting cover crops to stem erosion.
These ideas were proposed last week before the state, after years of resistance, proposed declaring the open waters of Lake Erie’s western basin to be impaired, a move likely to step up pressure on agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and other nutrient sources.
The state has already committed itself, as part of a pact with Michigan and Ontario, to reduce nutrient runoff by 40 percent by 2025. That includes an incremental “aspirational” goal of a 20 percent reduction in the next two years.
“The Ohio governor has some other ideas and potential legislation that was announced last Friday,” Mr. Gardner said. “If there is any package put together, we want to make sure these ideas are on the table.
“We want to see meaningful change by 2020,” he said. “Some people think of 2020 as early halftime for the 40 percent reduction. If we need to score 40 percent by 2025, we don’t want to go into halftime still needing 37 points.”
Mr. Arndt said he has not discussed the new proposal yet with the governor’s office, but he believes this plan should be more palatable.
“We’ve seen an awful lot of good work by the scientific community, the education community, and the agricultural community,” he said. “We’ve identified areas where we can achieve results.”
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Boardman), a Democratic candidate for governor, recently reintroduced his competing plan, also $1 billion over 10 years, for water infrastructure improvements statewide, not just within the Lake Erie watershed.
That borrowing, unlike the new Gardner-Arndt plan, would require voter approval.
“If Gardner can do it this way, I’m for it,” Mr. Schiavoni said. “I’d vote for it. It’s not enough. $1 billion is not enough.”
Peter Bucher, water resources director for the Ohio Environmental Council, commended the lawmakers for proposing “real funding.”
“To improve Lake Erie and to reach our nutrient reduction goals Ohioans need consistent funding that allows for best management practices to be implemented in the entire western Lake Erie basin watershed,” he said. “This is a great first step."
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