On Friday, the Legislative Service Commission hosted a seminar discussing Ohio’s efforts to solve harmful algae blooms in its waterways including Lake Erie.  The seminar brought together researchers, government officials and business groups to discuss the science and solutions for addressing algae blooms.

The biggest takeaways from the seminar is that Ohio has a  very good understanding of the causes of harmful algae blooms.  Here is a quick summary of the causes of the large blooms in Lake Erie:

  • Lake Erie is the most shallow Great Lake
  • There is very little forested land around Lake Erie, in particular in the land along Ohio’s shoreline
  • Non-point source runoff, primarily from the Maumee River, carry the pollutants that provide the fuel for the algae blooms
  • Phosphorus loading from fertilizer is the primary cause of algae growth
  • More rainfall results in more runoff and worse seasonal algae problems
  • Warmer temperatures mean more algae (there has been a 2 degree increase in average temperatures since 1900 in Lake Erie Region)

With an understanding of the causes of harmful algae blooms, what is the solution?  Scientists have a pretty good understanding of the solution- reduce phosphorus loading.  Ohio is targeting a 40% reduction target in phosphorus loading.  A 40% reduction equates to 3,316 metric tons (7.3 million pounds) in phosphorus.

The level of cooperation in Ohio has never been greater.  I was impressed by one panel that included the Farm Bureau, The Nature Conservancy and the Ohio Environmental Council.  The presenters all spoke about the unprecedented level of cooperation between these organizations in the last few years.  In this age of divisive politics, it was encouraging to see environmental and industry groups working together.

This July, the H2Ohio Water Fund was established by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. The legislation establishing the fund was a bipartisan effort.  H2Ohio will provide $172 million for projects to address water quality issues over the next two years.  The money will be used for the following:

  • Soil and nutrient management on farms
  • Restoring floodplains and wetland; and
  • Slowing down water through creation of two-stage ditches or other management practices

The level of commitment and cooperation is certainly unprecedented.  The open question is whether the 40% phosphorus reduction can occur simply as a target using voluntary efforts.  The significant water quality improvements that have been made in Ohio over the last several decades have largely been through permitting and regulation of wastewater discharges from industry.