Initiatives recently announced by the Kasich administration to address the algae problem that creates poisonous toxins in Lake Erie are welcome and constitute an indicator that the problem, which shut down Toledo's drinking water supply for several days, is taken seriously at the state level.
The initiative includes $150 million for low-interest loans for the improvement of local drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities and for the reconfirming of a single statewide testing protocol for the microcystin toxin approved by the Ohio Environmental Control Agency and the U.S. Environmental Control Agency. It also includes $1 million set aside for local water systems for testing equipment and training and for testing support from the Ohio EPA's lab for any system that requests it.
The initiative includes support for agriculture of $1.25 million for farmers to plant cover crops or install controlled drainage devices that protect against nutrient runoff and help support water quality. It also sets aside $2 million for those Ohio universities that are doing research on the algae blooms.
A nutrient reduction program for agriculture will be operated through the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative for acreage mostly in Northwest Ohio which is part of the Maumee River watershed, the principal contributor to the Lake Erie algae problem. An earlier Ohio Phosphorus II Task Force report highlighted cover crops and controlled drainage structures as effective strategies for managing nutrients, and these practices will be targeted by the new $1.25 million effort.
It has been established that cover crops improve soil health and decrease runoff and some crops even store nutrients in the soil, thereby, reducing the need for as much fertilizer in the spring. It has been shown that controlled drainage structures and blind tile inlets are also especially effective as they reduce runoff and result in less nutrient loading into the watershed.
So many counties rely on Lake Erie as their source of drinking water and even Portage County relies on Erie as a backup source of water for systems in Streetsboro and Aurora. A precious resource, Lake Erie needs to be protected and these recently announced Kasich administration programs are laudable in that context.