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Ohio EPA Calls Western Lake Erie 'Impaired'

Lake Erie in September 2017 [Elizabeth Miller/ideastream]

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has decided to include Western Lake Erie in a list of impaired waters, due to the harmful algae blooms that plague the region every year.  The agency’s move comes after years of calls from environmentalists and a federal lawsuit. 

Some politicians in Ohio and in Congress have long called for the designation.  The “impaired” term triggers a process that includes finding sources of pollution and limiting pollution.

Mike Ferner of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie says Ohio’s move is a good first step.

“All this decision does is start a process for cleaning up the lake,” said Ferner. “That process has got to be transparent or we’re not going to have the kind of cleanup that we need.”

The center, along with Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, sued the U.S. EPA last year. They wanted to force the agency to label western Lake Erie impaired under the Clean Water Act.  

Michigan already applied the label to its part of the lake.

Environmental groups in the state and the Great Lakes region had a mixed response to the news.

The Ohio Farm Bureau said the designation will have no immediate impact on farmers. The industry has been under scrutiny because one of the leading triggers for algae blooms is the phosphorus that runs off farm fields.

The bureau’s Joe Cornely added that “our biggest concern is how it will be perceived by the public. If this is considered to be a quick fix, a total fix for toxic algal blooms – that’s not what this does.”

The Alliance for the Great Lakes, a regional group, applauded the Ohio EPA – but said there is more to be done.

 “We’re happy to see this step was taken, however we still think a number of things need to happen to really bring us closer to achieving the phosphorus reduction goals that have been outlined,” said the group’s Crystal Davis.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat, called the decision “long overdue” in a statement. “The big question now is; how quickly the state will move to meet the reduction goals?”

In a  release, the Ohio EPA said the designation will not be a “magic bullet,” and reiterated its commitment to the Clean Water Act.

The list still needs to be approved by federal officials.