Think summer and Lake Erie comes readily to mind for many Ohioans, especially those residing in the northern tier. More apparent than ever at this time is the lake as natural treasure and economic engine. What also has become a part of the season is the anticipation, or dread, of the coming algal blooms. The sickly green cover will be there. The questions are: How far will it spread? How toxic will it be?

Four years ago, alarms rang. The city of Toledo found toxic algae had infiltrated its water system, requiring a shutdown that affected roughly 500,000 customers. That should have served as the impetus for urgent and dramatic action. Unfortunately, as monitoring has revealed, the state has made little progress against the conditions that fuel the algal blooms.

That isn’t to say state lawmakers and officials have been neglecting the problem. This past week, the legislature sent to Gov. John Kasich for his signature a measure that provides needed resources for improving the lake. The Clean Lake 2020 plan includes funding for research and monitoring of the primary culprit, runoff carrying heavy amounts of phosphorous, mostly from farm lands. The legislation supports farmers seeking to adopt corrective steps. It promotes alternative uses for dredged sediment.

At the same time, it has been encouraging to hear the governor and his team talk about taking executive action, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and its federal counterpart acknowledge that vast parts of the lake are impaired and in need of a remedy. Ohio has joined Michigan and the province of Ontario in pledging to reduce the phosphorous flowing into the lake 40 percent by 2025. Scientists advise that such a reduction would beat the algae.

Missing has been an approach with the muscle to deliver on the goal. Research and monitoring are essential. Incentives and education programs about best practices are worth pursuing. What Ohio has learned in recent years is that such initiatives are not enough.

That comes as no surprise. The hard lesson of environmental protection is that mandates and other regulatory requirements are necessary to get the job done. Consider the implementation of federal rules to improve air and water quality. The process had bite, and, true, many businesses and other entities grumbled along the way. Yet few argue today the country would be better off without those regulations, Studies confirm the benefits have far exceeded the costs.

In praising passage of the Clean Lake 2020 plan, state Rep. Steven Arndt, a Port Clinton Republican and a leader of the effort, stressed: “Lake Erie is one of Ohio’s most precious resources and it is our responsibility to protect it, not only for ourselves, but most importantly for our children and grandchildren.” The trouble is, the state isn’t meeting its responsibility.

Ohio lacks urgency and a comprehensive strategy for reaching its objective, including the adoption of a total daily maximum load of phosphorous going into the lake. To meet such a standard involves precise mandates, accountability and penalties with the clout of the law.

Does Ohio want to do its part? This seems an ideal opportunity for a term-limited governor seeking to close his eight years in office with an enduring, generational achievement. The Clean Lake 2020 plan shows that lawmakers know how to take smaller complementary steps. What the state needs is clear direction and focus on a larger scale to meet the problem. It is summer. The algal blooms are coming.