New Maps Show Direct Link Between Western Ohio Farms and Increased Algae Bloom Threats in Lake Erie

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PHOTO BY ERIC SANDY
  • Photo by Eric Sandy
As sprawling algae blooms turned the Maumee River green in downtown Toledo this fall, Lucas County Commissioners turned up the heat on the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the many western Ohio farmers that are contributing to the dramatic uptick in Lake Erie's phosphorus levels.

"Don’t defend the status quo that is poisoning our lake," Lucas County commissioner Pete Gerken said earlier this week, referencing newly published maps that link certain "lower Maumee" farmland areas to increased levels of phosphorus (fertilizer) pollution. Lucas County and the city of Toledo have spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" to combat this hazardous runoff. This year's algae bloom was the "third worst" on record; in 2014, the city of Toledo shut down its water supply for three days as the algae overtook its resources.

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The state's Department of Agriculture only has a voluntary policy on cutting back on fertilizer use, which tracks with the Department's stance toward farmers' environmental impact elsewhere. (Even when 66,701 "manure-based fish kills" were discovered in the Maumee River watershed in August, the Department of Agriculture sought no penalties against the farmers responsible for the manure discharges. The Department issued two warnings and blamed the manure-related fish deaths on "large unexpected weather events.")

Without firm state guidance, researchers said at the 2017 Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium this week, the impetus remains on individual farmers to stay on stop of soil erosion and phosphorus runoff. The new maps show precisely where the source of the problem is — and where to double down on the environmental work against the algae bloom threat

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