Fast forward

Time is of the essence to controlling the growth of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.
While the problem has been brewing for years, and is beginning to be addressed, there’s a new urgency since a three-day water ban resulted after microcystin, the toxin created as algae dies, infiltrated Toledo’s water system in western Lake Erie.
Once detected, officials there issued a no-drink warning, affecting about 500,000 people.
State lawmakers were on summer break at the time, but they have wasted little time introducing legislation that they hope will slow the flow of phosphorus, found in many fertilizers into Lake Erie.
The first bill was introduced Thursday in the Senate. More will be coming in the House.
While there are multiple sources of phosphorus, most scientists believe a major one is runoff of farm fields.
A law sponsored by Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and passed earlier this year, begins to address the use of fertilizer by requiring anyone who applies chemical fertilizers on 50 or more acres to either be state-certified, or work under someone who is, by September 2017.
Senate Bill 356 would add animal manure to the list of fertilizers which would require farmers to obtain certification. The requirement would take effect at the end of this year, if approved.
Other bills would prohibit the application of manure as a fertilizer when the ground is frozen or saturated with water, and require animal operations which produce 50 tons or more of manure a year to maintain sufficient storage for up to four months.
Interestingly, manure regulations had been part of Hite’s original bill, but were stripped out as a compromise with farmers and farm groups. At the time, Hite said the manure issues would be addressed in a future bill.
The future is now.
It would have been better to allow Hite’s bill a chance to work, but the Lake Erie ecosystem needs immediate attention. Though it is just one source of phosphorus, delaying action on manure for one, even two years, could lead to even bigger water problems than Toledo’s earlier this month.
Lawmakers must be careful not to focus all their energy on agricultural runoff, which is believed to be responsible for as much as 60 percent of the phosphorus that enters the lake. Residential uses of fertilizer and the practices of releasing untreated sewage from municipal sources during heavy thunderstorms must also be examined to help reduce the nutrient load.
Protecting a water supply that millions of Ohioans rely on must remain a top priority in Columbus until the threat has been reduced, if not eliminated.


About the Author