Ohio legislators propose $100 million bond issue to clean up Lake Erie

Bipartisan Ohio legislators want a $100 million annual statewide bond issue to clean up Lake Erie and reduce harmful algal blooms that plague the lake each summer.

Republicans Steve Arndt, a state representative from Port Clinton, and Randy Gardner, the Senate majority leader from Bowling Green, introduced the Clean Lake 2020 Plan in March. Democratic Rep. John Patterson of Jefferson and Sen. Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, joined as sponsors in May.

“We know we need to make more progress to reach our commitment toward a cleaner lake,” Gardner and Arndt said in a news release. “We have bipartisan support to implement the strategies in the plan that many agree can make a significant difference to reduce algal blooms.”

The details of paying back the bond issue are unclear.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in April proposed designating Lake Erie’s western basin (from the Michigan/Ohio state line to the Marblehead Lighthouse) as impaired for recreation due to the toxic microcystin on the lake during harmful algal blooms. Until now, only the shoreline of the western basin and drinking water intakes had been designated as impaired. 

“We have taken unprecedented steps in recent years to put Lake Erie on a better trajectory – including investing more than $3 billion to improve its water quality,” EPA Director Craig Butler said then.

Toledo in 2014 could not drink its water for three days because of toxins.

Ohio, like its neighbors, have pledged to reduce phosphorus by 40 percent, through education and voluntary actions by farmers.

An April EPA report, however, found that the state’s efforts aren’t working.

From 2013 to 2017, an analysis showed “no clear decrease” of nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Ohio rivers.

Phosphorus is found in manure and fertilizer spread on the fields in spring. About 90 percent of the phosphorus and nitrogen from the Maumee River watershed comes from what are called non-point sources, mainly farm runoff, research shows

This year, scientists forecast the harmful algal bloom could be less severe or worse than last year, the third highest on record.

The Clean Lake 2020 includes $36 million in 2018 for efforts to reduce algal blooms through conservation practices and other Lake Erie initiatives.

The Clean Water Ohio Bond Issue would allocate $100 million over a decade.

Algal blooms in Lake Erie, with the water intake crib for Toledo in the background in 2015. (Marvin Fong, The Plain Dealer)

Ohio State Sea Grant/Stone Lab: $2.65 million for research lab space, real-time buoys and water-treatment plant monitoring devices.

Healthy Lake Erie Initiative: $10 million (on top of the $10 million in the just-passed Capital Appropriations Act) to support projects to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials into Lake Erie by 2020, as Ohio law requires.

Soil & Water Conservation Support Fund: $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for staffing and to assist in soil testing, nutrient management plan development, enhanced filter strips and water management, and other conservation support.

Targeted Phosphorus Reduction Fund: Up to $20 million at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil & Water Commission. Programs could buy equipment for subsurface placement of nutrients into the soil, equipment for optimum nutrient placement, water management efforts, manure conversion technologies, tributary monitoring and edge-of-field drainage structures.

The Ohio Clean Water Bond Issue would also include waste water and water treatment plant support, water quality research and water resource management.

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