Sen. Rob Portman frustrated by continuing algal blooms on Lake Erie
Sen. Rob Portman’s three-day Lake Erie Tour wrapped up on Saturday with a Lake Erie fishing trip out of the Chagrin River, and a roundtable discussion at nearby Lakeline Village Hall.
This year’s tour focused on conservation and the environment, while previous tours had been more about tourism and the economy on the North Coast, and research on harmful algal blooms (HABs) caught Portman’s attention.
“We’re hearing about the research done on the toxicity of the harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie,” said Portman. “We’ve met with the Lake Erie Foundation, and their partnership with farmers (to reduce phosphorus pollution). It is frustrating, because we’ve spent many millions on the problem, and the phosphorus levels this year from the Maumee River Watershed that feeds Lake Erie haven’t changed as much as we’d like.
“We have to learn what works in reducing the blooms, and what does not.”
He pointed out that the wet spring, with far fewer farmers planting crops and applying phosphorus fertilizer, should have meant a reduced phosphorus loading on Lake Erie.
“The phosphorus levels are still high, and we’re looking at all the problems, including legacy hotspots.”
Those are fields that had received too much phosphorus for many years, even decades, in the form of manure at dairy farms and other livestock farms. Ohio’s voluntary regulations allow livestock farmers to apply 150 parts per million of phosphorus contained in manure on fields, three times as much as the typical fertilizer applied by corn and soybean farmers.
Ohio has made a deal with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to stop hauling dredge material from Lake Erie’s tributaries, including the Cuyahoga River, for open lake dumping. The Corps agreed to end the practice in 2020.
Portman’s Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, first enacted in 1998, was reauthorized in 2019 to include, for the first time, freshwater bodies such as the Great Lakes.
Director Mary Mertz of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said state officials are working on the HABs problem, along with a long list of organizations, such as Ohio Sea Grant, universities, colleges, and other states and federal agencies.
“Now we need to marry the Great Lakes Research Initiative (GLRI) with H2Ohio to fight phosphorus pollution and the HABs,’’ she said.
The GLRI is $300 million in federal funding to protect freshwater fisheries. President Trump first opposed the GLRI funding, then approved it for 2019. The H2Ohio water quality initiative in Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s budget provided $900 million over 10 years, but has stumbled in the Ohio legislature.
District Chief Kurt M. Princic of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency pointed to a $10.6 million settlement from the Osborne Company that will help the EPA to remediate 9 acres of the Mentor Marsh. The lawsuit accused Osborne’s companies of devastating the preserve by polluting it with salt runoff for the past 50 years. The clean-up project is expected to take about five years.
“We’re still going to need funds from programs like the GLRI to remediate Mentor Marsh, but we’ve developed a partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History,” said Princic.
Portman said the Lake Erie tour was an exercise in teamwork.
“We’ve learned more on this year’s annual tour than any before, and had a fun day of walleye fishing,” said Portman. “When you have the experts along from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and so many others, you’re able to get answers to some of the thorny questions.”