Toledo, OH (WTOL) - For the first time ever, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is declaring western Lake Erie impaired. The open waters of Lake Erie's western basin (from the Michigan/Ohio state line to the Marblehead Lighthouse) are being declared impaired for recreation due to harmful algae and drinking water due to occurrences of microcystin. Previously, only the shoreline area 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," said Ohio EPA director Craig Butler. "While designating the open waters of the western basin as impaired does not provide a magic bullet to improve the lake, the State remains committed to our obligations under the Clean Water Act and to examine emerging science and practices that we can put in place to help improve it."
"I am pleased the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Governor John Kasich decided to declare Ohio's portion of Lake Erie's open waters impaired under the federal Clean Water Act," said Toledo mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. "The step announced today is the most significant policy development in Ohio since the Toledo water crisis of 2014."
"The professional consensus is that the designation in and of itself means little," said executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau, Adam Sharp. "It does not create mandatory actions, nor does it provide federal money. It excludes Canada's role in protecting the lake. It also will create a long and complicated bureaucratic process that may impede current progress on reducing harmful algal blooms."
Butler said resolving the problem comes down to two components, both relating to nutrients. First, they're asking legislature to ask all waste water treatment plants in Ohio to limit phosphorus discharge, something other states have already achieved.
Secondly, they're asking to add fertilizer, not just, manure, to help add nutrients to the distressed water shed, an expense farmers will have to front due to changes on how they farm part of their property and the equipment they need to buy to incorporate fertilizer in the ground rather than lie on the land's surface.
"We recognize that it may be expensive. We're looking for options to give them time to adapt so that they can upgrade their equipment, get their manure management plan into place, so it will not be instantaneous. We need to be sensitive to this, that is has a real cost associated with it," Butler said.
The EPA is hoping to make a dent and reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie by 40% by 2025. Otherwise, the Federal EPA will take control, which is something the Ohio EPA is trying to avoid at all cost.