March 08, 2023
Columbus, Ohio – Today, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) submitted highly critical comments to Ohio EPA on the agency’s final draft of a plan that is supposed be a blueprint for cleaning up persistent toxic algae blooms in western Lake Erie. To be effective, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or “pollution diet” Ohio EPA developed and is collecting comments on, is supposed to cap phosphorus discharges from sources like industrial livestock facilities, commercial fertilizer, and wastewater treatment plants to prevent the formation of severe algae blooms.
“This TMDL is nothing but a permission slip to spend another ten years doing exactly the same things we have been doing for the past twenty years – spend massive sums of public money to encourage voluntary pollution reduction from agriculture, none of which have put a dent in the problem,” said Rob Michaels, Senior Attorney at ELPC. “The TMDL doesn’t even set a target for the pollutant driving the algae blooms – dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) . Instead, it only sets a target for total phosphorus, which won’t clean up the lake because DRP makes up only 20% of total phosphorus and is much harder to reduce.”
ELPC noted the TMDL also fails to assign pollution reduction allocations to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), even though CAFOs discharge DRP every time they apply liquid manure on fields with subsurface tile drainage, which nearly all fields in the Maumee River watershed have. In addition to citing other voluminous scientific evidence in ELPC’s comments, those assertions are supported by a detailed letter from Julie Weatherington-Rice, Ph.D., an esteemed soil scientist at Bennett & Williams Environmental, Westerville, Ohio, who has analyzed movement of water and contaminants through soils in the Maumee River watershed for decades.
“Equally disconcerting is that the TMDL fails to include a meaningful implementation plan,” said Michaels. “Instead, it recites a laundry list of ongoing programs and initiatives that have long been failing to solve the problem. Because of these major problems, the TMDL fails to provide ‘reasonable assurances’ that necessary reductions will be achieved, as required by state and federal regulations. To make Ohio EPA and the stakeholders’ significant investments into the process worthwhile, the TMDL must be designed to succeed. Right now, it is not.”
Ohio EPA started this process only after ELPC, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, and Lucas County Board of Commissioners sued U.S. EPA for not requiring Ohio EPA to clean up Lake Erie. Ohio EPA has until June 30, 2023 to submit its final TMDL to U.S. EPA.