International Effort Needed to Prevent Recurrence of Lake Erie Algal Bloom

On Monday, August 4, half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio metro region could once again drink from their water taps after a weekend without safe drinking water due to a toxin resulting from an algal bloom in the city's water supply, Lake Erie.
August 7, 2014, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Ohio has taken a major step to prevent a recurrence of the drinking water shutdown by requiring farmers to obtain a license to fertilize their fields, report Mark Peters and Matthew Dolan of The Wall Street Journal. Fertilizer runoff is considered one of the major causes of the algal blooms as it contributes a large amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to Lake Erie

Regulators say the new Ohio licenses, which will become mandatory in 2017 and will require farmers to take a one-day class, are aimed at cutting fertilizer use by showing farmers how they can apply less nutrients without hurting crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm.

The blooms look like thick pea soup as shown in this dramatic photo in National Geographic of a massive algae bloom in 2011. The August 4th article warns that these blooms may become commonplace due in part to climate change.

The licenses will hopefully be just the first of more strategies to come. "Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday echoed calls for mayors of Great Lakes cities to hold a summit on water issues in the wake of the recent crisis," add Peters and Dolan. In February "the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian group monitoring the Great Lakes, called for cutting the daily amount of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie by nearly half by 2022 in a bid to protect drinking water as well as fish," they write.

The report urged other states, including Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, as well as parts of Canada, to stop farmers from applying fertilizers on snow-covered or frozen ground to help reduce nutrient levels in waterways

Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, praised the new license requirement. "The law has 'teeth' because it will go after bad actors who recklessly apply fertilizer," notes the Bureau's public statement on the water crisis.

However, some feel that the license, plus additional recent measures the state has taken to reduce water pollution, don't go far enough.

"This isn't a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they're doing," said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group. "This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector," he added.

Correspondent's noteSubscriber-only content to The Wall Street Journal article will be available to non-subscribers for up to seven days after August 6th.

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Published on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal
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