Brown, Portman and Kaptur Introduce Bills to Address Harmful Algae Blooms

Algae blooms float in the western basin of Lake Erie on Sept. 8. (NOAA)
Algae blooms float in the western basin of Lake Erie on Sept. 8. (NOAA)
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The out-of-control growth of the blue-green algae monster in Ohio lakes starts upstream: The biggest known contributor is runoff from farms and other fields.

Basically fertilizer gets into waterways, and that feeds giant blooms of bacteria that produce toxins called microcystins in the summer months. Other contributors include manure runoff, leaky septic tanks and storm overflows in aging sewer systems…

So, Sen. Sherrod Brown’s bill would make more funding available for the 73 municipalities in Ohio that have those sewage overflows -- that includes Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

"We underinvest in water and sewer systems," Brown said. "Whether it’s in a small town or a large city, these communities need help in upgrading their water systems."

Brown also worked with Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur on a bill that would direct the federal Environmental Protection Agency to set an actual standard for how much microcystin is okay to drink.

Here’s Portman.

"Right now we’re relying on a suggestion from the World Health Organization of one part per billion or less of microcystins," he said. "We don’t know if that’s the right level or not.

Both legislators have said the issue is urgent—Brown again.

"When 500,000 people lose their drinking water, and there’s no reason we won’t see other big algae blooms in the next five or 10 years, and the climate is changing, there is not time for delay," he said.

But there’s nothing on the table right now that would limit fertilizer or manure runoff. A state law passed this spring requires farmers to start getting certified and learn best practices before they put down fertilizer, but that requirement takes three years to go into effect.

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