As toxic algae maintains its grip on Great Lakes tourism, property values, and public health, more state and federal officials seem to agree that farm runoff, sewage overflows, and other forms of pollution must be reduced at least 40 percent to put a meaningful dent in the problem.
The International Joint Commission, though, wants more aggressive target-reduction goals for the type of phosphorus that most quickly dissolves in the water.
In a report being discussed tonight at Maumee Bay State Park, the commission — an arm of the U.S. State Department that has helped resolve common boundary water issues with Canada since 1909 — said that form of runoff must be reduced 75 percent to cut the size of future algae blooms in half. It also wants a ban on winter applications of manure and biosolids.
Comments are being taken online. Today’s forum inside the state park’s lodge is expected to last three hours, starting with an hour-long poster session at 6 p.m.
The commission said its recommendations came after spending more than a year with U.S. and Canadian scientists immersed in the algae issue.
“Common farming practices and also old sewer systems and climate are contributing to Lake Erie’s current problems,” said Lana Pollack, chairman of the commission’s U.S. section. “Our advice to governments pulls no punches because the science indicates that without major changes, especially in farming practices, we won’t see any substantial improvement in Lake Erie’s health.”
Calls for at least a 40 percent reduction in agricultural and other forms of runoff have been aired at scientific gatherings for months. They were amplified at Tuesday’s opening of the 75th annual gathering of the American Water Works Association’s Ohio section. The group, which represents Ohio’s water-treatment plant operators, is meeting at the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo through Friday.
Plant operators have to spend more to treat algae-infested water. Those costs get passed on to ratepayers. In Toledo, the city’s water-treatment plant spends more than $150,000 a month each summer removing a type of toxic algae that thrives on excessive nutrients from fertilizers and sewage, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus.
Gail Hesse, chairman of Ohio’s phosphorus-reduction task force, said a 40 percent reduction in agricultural runoff is recommended in the task force’s latest report. She is executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, a board of state agency directors.
She said the region needs to continue building a consensus around that goal because more than 80 percent of northwest Ohio is used by agriculture.
The frequency and intensity of storms is on the rise, too, causing the likelihood of more runoff.
Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, said there has been a 52 percent increase in major storms over the last half century. Those are defined as ones that have brought three inches or more of rain within a 24-hour period, he said.
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