Algae offensive

There are no cure-alls or quick fixes for Ohio’s algae problems.
In recent years, blue-green seaweed has infiltrated streams, rivers and lakes. Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys are now plagued by slime each summer, and smaller lakes and ponds are also at risk throughout the state.
Toxic algae has resulted in beach closings, swimming bans, and last year threatened a municipal water supply. Algal blooms have become a threat to the region’s tourism industry.
But Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, could help stem the tide.
The legislation aims to improve water quality by limiting the amount of farm nutrients, including phosphorus, that make it into our waterways. Phosphorus is known to feed and promote growth of blue-green algae.
The bill would require farmers to undergo training and receive certification from the state before applying fertilizer for agriculture production.
It also requires owners or operators of agricultural land to develop voluntary nutrient management plans containing results of soil tests, identification of nutrients applied, documentation of the application of nutrients and field information.
Plans would not be public record, but would be accessible for government review.
Approved 32-0 in the Senate, the proposal will next be reviewed by the House. If approved, Ohio would be the first state in the nation to have such legislation.
While the bill has shortcomings, it represents an important step forward.
Runoff from fertilizers has been identified as one of the main causes of algal blooms.
But algae is not just fed by agriculture. It also thrives on phosphorous that makes its way into waterways from industrial wastewater, and municipal and residential sewage systems. An additional source is lawn fertilizer, which can enter waterways through storm water runoff.
In one way or the other, we all contribute to the problem.
It’s encouraging to see many in the farm community take a proactive stand to help control algae. The ag industry has made an investment in water quality by contributing more than $1 million to fund a three-year study conducted by Ohio State University into phosphorus runoff.
We would hope others, including municipalities, industries and property owners, will also step up to be part of the solution.
Hite, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, admits the bill won’t solve all of Ohio’s water problems, but does address the need for education. Its requirements for certification are similar to those already in place for those who handle agricultural pesticides.
Some critics have said the bill doesn’t go far enough. One criticism is that language that would have governed manure use and disposal has been removed from the bill.
Algae will likely need to be attacked on different fronts, and it may take additional bills before it is no longer a threat to our water quality.
Hite contends Senate Bill 150 is a good place to start. We agree.



About the Author