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Bill to halt lake dumping

Tom Jackson • Dec 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Environmentalists are unhappy about open lake dumping in Lake Erie.

State Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, says he hopes his measure will do something to help with the problem.

The Army Corps of Engineers dredges shipping channels in Lake Erie’s harbors to keep the shipping lanes open. The material is then put back in the lake. The dirt clouds the water and is believed to add to Lake Erie’s harmful algal bloom problem.

Gardner has amended Senate Bill 150, a bill that deals with fertilizer regulation, to add $1.6 million to help deal with dirt in Lake Erie.

Part of the money, Gardner said, would go to soil and water conservation districts for conservation practices that lessen the amount of dirt carried away from farm fields by water runoffs. And part of it would go to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources specifically to deal with open lake dumping, to treat the materials or mitigate the problem. It’s not new money but is redirected from an account where it’s not being used, Gardner said.

Gardner said he hopes a solution will be found so that the Army Corps of Engineers will deposit the dredged material somewhere on land rather than in the lake.

“If we provide another option that’s environmentally smart and doesn’t cost the federal government money, we would expect the Army Corps to be supportive,” he said. “That’s why we don’t impose a mandate or solution. We simply set it (the funds) aside and say it’s available, if we can do something more meaningful with it”

A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Buffalo, N.Y., said the Corps is sensitive to environmental issues.

“The Corps of Engineers is committed to working with stakeholders in an open and transparent way to develop technically sound, economically justified and environmentally sustainable solutions,” said Bruce Sanders, a public affairs officer.

Senate Bill 150 is designed to help combat the harmful algal bloom problem by giving the state the power to regulate application of fertilizer, so that farmers will properly apply fertilizer and avoid having phosphorus run into the lake.

The measure is still in committee. Gardner said he’s not a member of the committee and has withheld judgment on the bill until it gets to the Senate floor. He said he expects the measure to be approved in committee next month.

Jeffrey Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant program, said from 800,000 to 1.2 million cubic yards of dredged dirt is placed in the lake each year. It makes the water less clear, reduces the ability of rooted aquatic material to grow and covers areas where fish would spawn, he said.

While a single cubic yard of dirt may have only a low amount of phosphorus, the cumulative effect of all of that material likely adds to the phosphorus content in the water and contributes to harmful algal blooms, Reutter said.

“It would be very good for the ecosystem if we didn’t do that” he said.

Reutter said Sea Grant is working on a project now to come up with a solution.

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