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Lake Erie algal bloom continues

Alex Green • Aug 20, 2014 at 8:10 PM


Jeffrey Reutter tentatively dipped his hands into Lake Erie in 1971, but the lake more closely resembled hazardous waste than it did fresh water.

Several decades and proactive measures later, Reutter is still leading the charge — precisely the research — aimed at protecting and maintaining the paramount natural resource.

Since 1987 he's been the director of the Ohio State University Stone Laboratory where he and other experts spoke to reporters from around the state Monday and Tuesday.

In the wake of the recent drinking water crisis and significant algal blooms around local waters, they discussed anything related to the blooms including phosphorus.

Major Sources of Phosphorus

-Lawn fertilizer

-Sewage treatment plants

-Non-point source runoff from urban areas

-Non-point source runoff from agricultural areas

Non-point sources are areas of land from which runoff feeds directly into the water, as opposed to point sources such as a drain, that is regulated.

Sewage treatment contributed to two-thirds of phosphorus in the lake in the 1970s, as agricultural runoff now causes about the same amount, Reutter said.

The other widely talked about and controversial catalyst for the blooms is open lake dumping.

"The ongoing discussions are fairly tense between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state," Reutter said.

The Army Corps operates at the cheapest possible cost, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler recently said, and has historically used the practice of open lake dumping.

But the Ohio EPA, whose permission is required for open lake dumping, did not grant it in April when the Army Corps sought to dump material dredged in the Cuyahoga River.

The Army Corps agreed to place the material in an existing disposal facility, but only material dredged in 2014, since they say those facilities will reach capacity by the end of the year.

What will happen after that remains to be seen, Reutter said.

"Meetings (between the two sides) have been very cordial," Reutter said. "Each group has its position. There should be a conclusion in a month or two or three, (on) how to move forward dealing with dredging issues."

Open lake dumping is just once piece of the complex proverbial pie, as farmers and marinas are also altering their businesses to help with the problem.

The Ohio Sea Grant, the Ohio EPA and other organizations have started an intensive program working with marinas to promote recycling and educational signs that tell boaters where to fuel up among other healthy environment practices.

Clean Marinas

-There are 44 certified marinas along Lake Erie

-Each has implemented an average of 71 best management practices

-33 pledged marinas have taken the first step in becoming a certified marina and have signed a pledge indicating their commitment.

Laura Johnson of Heidelberg University spoke about potential dangers of non-point sources and said monitoring these areas will be key in halting the trending algal blooms.

"If we keep monitoring rivers and monitoring practices we're using, what's going in (the water), I think there's a lot that can be done on that front.

But at least for the near future, Justin Chaffin of the Ohio Sea Grant said expect a noticeable change in color come September in eastern Ottawa County.

"It shouldn't affect the drinking water like in Toledo," he said. "But it will affect the water."

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