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Blade hosts editorial forum on health of Lake Erie

Activists call for 'impaired' designation for western basin

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    A sample of the water with algae taken out of Lake Erie near Toledo's water intake near Meinke Marina West Curtice.

    AP

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    A glass of Lake Erie water with harmful algae taken near the City of Toledo water intake crib.

    THE BLADE
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Three local environmental activists called on Toledo and Ohio leaders Thursday to more vigorously pursue “impaired” status for western Lake Erie under the Clean Water Act, arguing that merely monitoring pollutants after they’ve entered the lake will not solve the lake’s algae problem.

While Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich say such a designation would stigmatize the area, “Our region already has a black mark on it, and you can see it from outer space,” Mike Ferner of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie said.

Mr. Ferner, a former Toledo city councilman and mayoral candidate, was referring to the green expanse of algae that once again has erupted across western Lake Erie. He spoke during a Blade editorial-board forum that was live-streamed on Facebook. The video is available for viewing on Buckeye Broadband.

Past algal blooms have been documented in satellite photographs, including the bloom in 2014, which produced so much toxic microcystin that Toledo’s drinking-water supply was shut down for more than two days that August.

Mr. Ferner was joined on the panel by Frank Szollosi of the National Wildlife Federation, also a former Toledo councilman, and Sandy Bihn of the Lake Erie Foundation.

Ms. Bihn said there is no direct impact from declaring a body of water “impaired,” nor does such a designation impose any schedule on authorities for developing an action plan to address the impairment.

But without such a designation, she said, no serious effort will be made to identify and quantify sources of chemical nutrients that enter Lake Erie through its tributary rivers and streams, and promote toxic algae growth.

Agricultural fertilizers lead among those sources, she and the other panelists agreed. Large volumes of cow manure also play a role, especially as industrial-scale dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations grow in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan

The activists spoke in particular about a pending 4,500-head dairy in Celina, Ohio. Runoff from there is likely to flow into the St. Mary’s River, one of the Maumee River’s two primary tributaries.

Mr. Szollosi said it is only fair that pollution originating from agricultural sources be remediated with effort similar to what occurred with the city of Toledo’s sewage-treatment system.

Toledo is in the midst of a federally mandated, $530 million project, paid for by sewer-system customers, to correct overflows that once discharged raw sewage into local waterways when storm drainage overwhelmed its treatment plant.

City water customers bear the cost of additional treatment of Toledo’s drinking water to ensure the water is safe from toxins like microcystin, Mr. Szollosi said.

“As it stands today, we’re paying for other people’s pollution,” Mr. Szollosi said.

The hour-long discussion will be presented on the Buckeye Broadband’s Channel 69 seven times during the next 10 days: Saturday at noon, Sunday at 2:30 p.m., Monday at 9 p.m., Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., Aug. 25 at 9:30 p.m., Aug. 26 at 2:30 p.m., and Aug. 27 at 1 p.m.

Contact David Patch at dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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