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Published: 10/15/2010

Skimping on research

THE environmental pollution that tainted many Ohio waterways last summer, and could again severely threaten the health and welfare of residents, ought to be a top state priority. It isn't.

Researchers charged with analyzing and reducing the noxious algae that coated lakes and rivers in the state at record levels are scrambling to remain on task for lack of funds. A key player in preventing the algae from getting so prevalent and poisonous that people can't swim, fish, or boat in the water doesn't know how it will stay ahead of the blue-green pollution that has choked western Lake Erie and its tributaries.

Heidelberg University's renowned National Center for Water Quality Research, which for decades has generated crucial data on phosphorus run-off in the Great Lakes region - a main algae nutrient - has barely half the money it needs to test annual water samples from the Maumee River.

It has no funds to gauge water quality in the Sandusky River. Those are two of the largest and most important tributaries of western Lake Erie, a part of the Great Lakes where fishing is most productive.

A few months ago, the Maumee River registered its highest phosphorus levels in more than 30 years at a monitoring station near Waterville. The Sandusky River posted its second-highest levels at a station near Fremont.

What happens next summer if hot weather and pollution washing into lakes and streams conspire to create more massive algae blooms in western Lake Erie and several inland bodies of water?

Over the years, countless Great Lakes scientists have depended on the Heidelberg lab to advance research on water quality. The studies are crucial to the state in terms of both public health and tourism commerce.

So why is the lab forced to perform its work on a shoestring, and state agencies forced to respond to potentially dangerous algae on the fly?

Even in the midst of a budget crisis, the state must find the resources to confront a serious threat.



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