Lake Erie to Ohio EPA: Please, Call Me Impaired
By Peter Krause
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a list of impaired waters in Ohio, but to the disappointment of environmentalists, it doesn’t include the open waters of Lake Erie.
Designating the lake as “impaired” is critical to stemming the encroachment of harmful algal blooms, said Frank Szollosi. The category would require the state of Ohio to work with the U.S. EPA to develop a concrete plan to remediate the problem.
But the Ohio EPA did not include Erie’s open waters on a list of impaired waterways when it submitted it to the U.S. EPA last fall. The U.S. EPA approved the list May 18.
What frustrates Ohio environmentalists further is that Michigan included western Lake Erie on its list of impaired waters. That was approved by the U.S. EPA.
“This is not sensible,” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said in a statement Tuesday. Kaptur, a Democrat, represents a swath of shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland. “There is no imaginary line in the middle of Lake Erie where one side of the lake faces challenges that don’t impact the other side… Eleven million people depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water and this contradictory action fails to address the real danger they face from the presence of toxic algal blooms.”
A spokesperson for the Ohio EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The federal Clean Water Act sets a standards for impaired waters, Szollosi said. In the case of algae blooms and nutrient loading, the U.S. EPA would require that the sources and amounts of nutrients be identified and limits set.
“We want a legally enforceable measuring stick for progress,” he said.
Without the official limits, Szollosi said voluntary incentives simply won’t work.
Incentives were applied to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay for 20 years, he said, but not until pollution standards were put in place did any meaningful reduction of nutrients occur.
In Lake Erie, the major problem is farm fertilizers running off into the lake, primarily by way of the Maumee River in Toledo. Three years ago, 400,000 Toledo area residents were temporarily without drinking water after harmful toxins from algal blooms fouled the water supply.
Algae that spreads into the central basin of the lake can also create a massive dead zone.
The phosphorus in the fertilizer is the main problem, according to Jeff Reutter, former director of the Ohio State University’s Sea Grant College Program and Stone Lab, who discussed the issue with cleveland.com this month during a water summit in Cleveland sponsored by the Cleveland Water Alliance.
Other stewards of Lake Erie have are as indignant as Szollosi over Lake Erie being excluded from the list of impaired waters.
“The waters of the Great Lakes are the most critical asset we have,” said Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, in a prepared statement. “We are disappointed in the EPA decision to all Ohio to keep the status quo. Michigan can’t address Lake Erie’s issues alone. There must be a collective action and commitment to solve it.”
The Environmental Law & Policy Center also weighed in. “By passing the buck back and forth, EPA and Ohio EPA are ducking the real issue that Ohio’s reliance on unenforceable, voluntary measures will not get the job done in addressing phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie,” reads a written statement from center staff attorney Madeline Fleisher.