the Beacon Journal editorial board
What must be done to rid Lake Erie of harmful algal blooms? A governor like John Kasich, who frequently laments what he sees as excessive government regulation, must recognize the need for a strong regulatory regime to reduce the phosphorous-laden runoff now flowing into the lake.
Unfortunately, a draft plan, release by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency last week, falls short of what is required. The draft stems from a commitment made a year ago by Ohio, Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario to reduce phosphorous runoff into the lake 40 percent by 2025. That target reflects the work of scientists who advise that such a reduction would address the problem.
Get to the goal, and Toledo would not face telling residents to stop drinking from the tap because toxic algal blooms entered the city water system. The risk of algae stretching from the western basin past Cleveland would be removed, the green slime no longer disrupting, as it did last year, the summer tourism industry.
The Lake Erie Charter Boat Association told the Columbus Dispatch last week that its business declined by nearly one-quarter last year due to the largest bloom on record, July and August “pretty much lost.”
As the 40 percent goal suggests, the governor and state lawmakers have taken helpful steps. They have recognized the major role of farm lands and livestock operations, especially along the Maumee River. Farmers now must take a certification course in managing runoff. They are barred from spreading manure on frozen or rain-drenched fields.
The draft plan contains advances, too. The state EPA would assess watersheds to identify those contributing heavier loads of phosphorous. There would be closer monitoring of combined sewer overflows and failing septic systems. Farmers could get certified in conservation methods. The state would seek improved coordination of resources in the Maumee Basin.
Missing in all of this are the necessary regulatory tools to compel action from farmers. As many students of government regulation know well, voluntary measures rarely produce results the way legal requirements do. In this case, the urgency of the problem calls for a heavier touch.
Recall that in 2013, the Ohio Phosphorous Task Force recommended a 40 percent reduction. A year later, the International Joint Commission, the U.S.-Canadian body with the task of stewardship of the Great Lakes, urged the same.
By now, the science should grab hold and drive an understanding that precise targets must be hit on the way to the goal. With what it has at stake, Ohio should take the lead, its plan sending a message that there is no time to waste, voluntary giving way to required. That may upset farm interests. The greater concern is an endangered Lake Erie.