By LOU WILIN
Many Hancock County farmers think they have been unfairly blamed for algae blooms in Lake Erie, which kill fish and can sicken and kill people.
So it dismayed them last week when Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order that could lead to increased fertilizer regulations. The order will tighten state oversight in eight northwest Ohio watersheds, including the Blanchard River watershed.
But state Senate Majority Leader Randy Gardner, speaking to Findlay Rotary Club on Monday, said some help is on the way to farmers, too.
Funding to help farmers afford ways to reduce toxic algae in Lake Erie was approved by the Legislature and signed last week by Kasich.
“It’s going to affect potentially a lot of people. Hopefully support of agriculture, to help it be part of the solution,” said Gardner, R-Bowling Green.
Gardner sponsored the bill, which also earmarks state funds for further research into the cause of the algae problem.
Good research will be a key, said Ed Lentz, Ohio State University Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Hancock County.
Lentz and area farmers say Toledo and Detroit should take more responsibility for the phosphorus-bearing sewage they dump in Lake Erie. Phosphorus, found in both fertilizer and sewage, fuels algae growth.
“Have we truly identified the main causes of what’s causing the soluble phosphorus levels to be where they are in entering the lake? That’s where the Gardner bill provides a fair amount of funds to cover additional research,” Lentz said Monday.
“That’s been our challenge all along here is not having the research dollars or in not completing the research that needs to be done to truly identify what is the best practice or what’s going to be the best activity or remediation,” Lentz said.
There is no quick fix for the Lake Erie algae problem, he said.
“That’s why we need the right research out there to identify what that fix is, before we put lots of money into something, and 10 years down the road find out that that really wasn’t the problem,” Lentz said.
He said he hopes Gardner’s legislation will help “avoid those pitfalls that you can run into.”
Gardner expressed misgivings Monday about the governor issuing an executive order which ultimately could mandate changes in farming practices.
“The executive order, I would much rather sit down and work things through the Legislature than I would have a top-down executive order,” he said.
Kasich reportedly issued the order because he was frustrated with lawmakers’ refusal to take tougher action to remedy the algae problem.
Lentz said he had no comment on Kasich’s order.
Separately, Gardner called the state’s system of financing public libraries “the envy of the country.”
“We’re number one in state funding, state support, to assist public libraries,” Gardner said. “We are, in fact, 1,165 percent above the national average in state support for libraries.”
The state spends $32.97 per capita on public libraries, and the national average is $2.83 per capita.
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