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Ohio’s Recent Efforts to Strengthen Lake Erie Water Quality Give It Jump-Start on New Targets Announced by U.S. EPA
State Has Spent More Than $2 Billion Since 2011 to Improve Lake Erie Water Quality
In Washington D.C. at a Great Lakes Commission semi-annual meeting today, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will announce new state targets for reducing phosphorus in the Great Lakes. The 40 percent phosphorus reduction target identified by U.S. EPA is the same as that adopted earlier by Ohio through its 2013 Phosphorus Task Force II report and closely follows the path Ohio has already taken by working to establish the Western Lake Erie Basin Collaborative Agreement.
Ohio is currently working with the state of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario on an international agreement reached last summer to reduce phosphorus by 40 percent in the Lake Erie basin. Ohio’s implementation plan will be released this spring and will give the state a unique jump-start on targets announced today by the federal government as part of the Annex 4 process, helping Ohio and its partners to improve Lake Erie sooner.
The State of Ohio has been an active participant in Annex 4 of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, first signed in 1972. Under Annex 4 to that agreement, the United States and Canada are developing targets this year to reduce nutrient levels in Lake Erie, and will create an action plan by 2018 to meet those targets. U.S. EPA has indicated to Ohio its agreement that the Annex 4 process is the best way to protect Lake Erie for the four states and one province that share the lake’s coastline.
The action plans for Annex 4 and the Collaborative Agreement will add to the efforts already underway by the State of Ohio to improve Lake Erie. In 2011, the directors of Ohio EPA, ODNR and ODA brought together the Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group of research scientists, agribusiness leaders and environmentalists to discuss how agricultural practices may affect conditions in Lake Erie and to develop recommendations on how the state can partner with the agricultural community to promote nutrient stewardship statewide. In addition, the state brought Ohio’s agriculture industry and other stakeholders together for two Phosphorus Task Forces. The second Phosphorus Task Force declared that to protect Lake Erie, we need a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus. This report, published in 2013, is the roadmap used in Ohio to guide the state’s legislative and policy actions to date and has contributed significantly to these international agreements that recognize this target.
Last year, Ohio passed historic reforms to strengthen Lake Erie water quality, including banning manure or fertilizer application on frozen, snow covered, or rain soaked ground, requiring major wastewater treatment plants to monitor their discharge for phosphorus and requiring other wastewater treatment plants to determine the feasibility of limiting phosphorus. In addition, Ohio has banned the open-lake placement of dredged material by 2020 and created a first of its kind statewide program to certify farmers applying fertilizer in Ohio.
Since 2011, the State of Ohio has invested more than $2 billion in the Lake Erie watershed to improve drinking water and wastewater facilities, monitor water quality, plant cover crops, install controlled drainage systems on fields and fix faulty septic systems.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1972 to consolidate efforts to protect and improve air quality, water quality and waste management in Ohio. Since then, air pollutants dropped by as much as 90 percent; large rivers meeting standards improved from 21 percent to 89 percent; and hundreds of polluting, open dumps were replaced with engineered landfills and an increased emphasis on waste reduction and recycling.