EPA reverses western basin impairment declaration, urges reevaluation of lake

EPA reverses western basin impairment declaration, urges reevaluation of lake

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The federal Environmental Protection Agency reversed their decision approving the state of Ohio's recommendation to declare a portion of the western end of Lake Erie impaired.

The EPA said in a letter to Ohio officials the state's list of impaired water was incomplete and their assessment of the lake needed to be reevaluated.

"It allows now a door to be reopened where the US EPA has realized there are gaps in the information that was provided and Ohio EPA should learn quickly that it is critically important for use to have a designation of impaired status," said  Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wosniak.

This withdraw doesn't guarantee an impaired status from the Ohio EPA, but it does draw attention to what the U.S. EPA is calling an error in the submission.

"But the work isn't done," said Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada. "This is the first step in then turning to the state of Ohio and saying alright now it's time to embrace the requirements of the Clean Water Act and work within that set of requirements."

One requirement is every two years the state must evaluate the water quality of all waters within its jurisdiction. This includes and Lake Erie and the watershed that leads into the lake.

An impairment designation would put a lot of things in motion to help protect the open waters in Lake Erie  but there will also need to be a lot of work in reducing the amount of runoff that ends up in the Maumee River which ends up in Lake Erie.

"In order to address the algal bloom we have to have all polluters at the table," Contrada said. "Which includes non-point source, agriculture in this region accounts for well over 80% of the phosphorus that's getting into Lake Erie and we have to have those people at the table in order to have real solutions."

The reversal comes after several Toledo-based environmental groups including Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, sued the EPA urging the entire lake be classified as impaired.

If the lake were to be declared impaired, the designation would allow further pollution regulations to prevent algae blooms.

The Lucas County Commissioners released a statement unanimously applauding the decision.

"The health of Lake Erie continues to be a top priority of the Lucas County Commissioners," Skeldon Wozniak said. "We have a dynamic program to identify sources and amounts of nutrients flowing into Lake Erie. Our offer to partner with state and federal EPA officials to ensure that these sources are identified and mitigated is still on the table."

"The Ohio EPA has received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding since 2011 to monitor nutrient levels in the western basin," Commissioner Pete Gerken added. "Director Butler's defense that they don't have the data to make an impairment designation doesn't add up – and now the Trump Administration agrees."

U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur also released a statement on the announcement:

"EPA's decision to reconsider the status of the open waters of Lake Erie is right on. There is no magic line between the impaired Lake Erie waters of Michigan and Ohio. This is simple, Lake Erie should be designated as impaired because it is. This past summer 1,000 square miles of the Lake were covered in green slime – even a child can see the Lake is impaired. The State of Ohio has proven time and again that it has more excuses than solutions.  We hope Governor Kasich and the Ohio EPA will join us in welcoming the U.S. EPA's input and expertise in helping return our Great Lake to great health."

One of the big things the EPA is looking for, the amount of phosphorous pollution from nutrient runoff that leads to the growth of harmful algal blooms.

The next step for the Ohio EPA is to gather and evaluate all data regarding nutrients in Lake Erie, including phosphorus pollution, and resubmit its findings to the EPA by April 9, 2018.

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