Drinking Water Ban Stirs Legislative Interest In Reducing Phosphorous

Algae bloom by flickr.com's Heather.
Algae bloom by flickr.com's Heather.
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Toledo’s water ban is over. But the debate has just begun.

“The threat is still going to continue," says Adam Rissien. "We’ve just begun the season for algal blooms, and it’s going to stretch into September.”

Rissien is the Water and Agricultural Policy Director for the Ohio Environmental Council. The advocacy group has repeatedly called on the Governor and lawmakers to enforce – and enact – restrictions on activities that eventually boost algae growth in Lake Erie.

Rissien cites a state task force report from last fall, that shows the Western Lake Erie Basin receiving 44 percent of all phosphorous runoff across the Great Lakes.

“What we really need to be looking at are urban and agricultural sources of nutrients -- phosphorous in particular. Septic tanks need to be inspected, we need to look at combined sewer overflows.”

Rissien says there are steps to ward off future incidents, including giving the Agriculture Department more of the responsibility which now resides in the Department of Natural Resources. He expects the legislature to revisit the subject when it reconvenes in November.

Meanwhile, Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown says a joint application with Michigan and Indiana for improving water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin has advanced another round through what’s called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Part of this year’s Farm Bill, it would allocate $1.2 billion over five years to help reduce phosphorous flow.

“There are no assurances that this doesn’t happen again, as the projections for more algae bloom get worse in the weeks ahead," says Brown. "So that’s why I’m working with a lot of local farm groups, figure out what they can do to take advantage of this new Farm Bill, to cut their fertilizer use, and to practice best practices in conservation.”

Brown says he hopes the USDA approves the application.

This weekend’s water ban affected nearly half a million people living in the Toledo area.

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