Nutrient Pollution - Finding Solutions

Nutrient pollution is a major water quality problem in Ohio and throughout the nation. 

We are actively working on solutions that work for Ohio.  While efforts to control nutrient enrichment over the past 30 years have yielded some positive results, current evidence shows the need to develop newer solutions and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of existing strategies to reduce nutrients in our waterways.

Nutrient pollution is one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.

It is caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus in water. Nutrients are chemical elements that all living organisms—plants and animals—need to grow.

When too much nitrogen and phosphorus enter the environment—usually from a wide range of human activities—the water can become polluted. The primary sources of nutrient pollution are runoff of fertilizers, animal manure, sewage treatment plant discharges, storm water runoff, car and power plant emissions, and failing septic tanks.

Water pollution caused by excessive amounts of nutrients is quite evident in Ohio's many lakes, rivers, and streams. Approximately 48% of Ohio's watersheds are degraded by nutrient loading from phosphorus and nitrogen. Conditions in Ohio's surface waters have reached a critical situation.

In Ohio, nutrient pollution causes many problems such as:

  • Harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie and inland lakes
  • The issuance of public health warnings to avoid swimming
  • Widespread nuisance growths of aquatic vegetation
  • Increased water treatment costs for clean public water supplies
  • Renewed concern over the increased size of anoxic areas in Lake Erie

To address these problems, Ohio citizens will need to make significant changes regarding the management of agricultural and urban landscapes to minimize the influx of nutrients to our waterways.

Further consideration must be given to the design, construction, and operation of nutrient removal technologies at wastewater treatment facilities.

The nature of these changes and the approaches taken by governmental agencies, agri-businesses, farmers, landowners, wastewater treatment service providers and researchers must be constructively debated and quickly implemented if further damage to the environment is to be avoided.

Ohio's Nutrient Reduction Strategy

U.S. EPA has asked states to develop statewide nutrient reduction plans. Ohio's EPA, Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources have developed a statewide Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The initial framework was submitted to U.S. EPA on Nov. 15, 2011. The final strategy was submitted to U.S. EPA on June 28, 2013.

Ohio EPA held a Visioning Workshop on Nov. 14, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio

During this workshop, water quality experts provided valuable information regarding Ohio's efforts to reduce nutrients reaching the state's waterways.  Stakeholders from all sectors and regions were encouraged to attend this initial Visioning Workshop, and discussion helped set the stage for future Ohio Nutrient Forums.

Ongoing State initiatives that were discussed included the Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, the Directors' Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group, and the Directors' Point Source/Urban Work Group.

Meeting Summary

Meeting Materials


Technical Advisory Group for Nutrient Water Quality Standards


Ohio EPA's current approach to address nutrient pollution is based on narrative standards for protection against adverse aesthetic conditions and harm to aquatic life.  In 1999, Ohio EPA published a report that translated these narrative standards into target phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations to protect aquatic life.  Regulatory activities taken by Ohio EPA, including Total Maximum Daily Loads and point source discharge limits, have used these target nutrient values for the past 14 years.

For the past 10 years, Ohio EPA has been working on developing new nutrient standards.  This work was initiated in response to U.S. EPA's publication of national nutrient criteria recommendations in 2003 and Clean Water Act Section 106 grant work plan commitments.  U.S. EPA has continued to encourage, and in some cases require, States to adopt numeric water quality criteria for nutrients.

Advisory Group

In April 2013, Ohio EPA announced an Early Stakeholder Outreach public comment period regarding nutrient criteria in Ohio's water quality standard regulations.  The Nutrient Technical Advisory Group (TAG) will advise the Agency as it moves forward with the next steps in the task of developing State surface water quality standards for nutrients.

Nutrient TAG agenda material and minutes are available on this web site.  Attendance at TAG meetings is limited to members, alternates and invited observers.  Contact Dan Dudley regarding participation as an observer.

Nutrient Mass Balance Study for Ohio’s Major Rivers

The Nutrient Mass Balance Study for Ohio’s Major Rivers was completed for nine watersheds in Ohio covering 66 percent of the state’s land area. The watersheds studied were in both the Lake Erie and Ohio River drainages. The objective of the study is to determine nutrient (phosphorus and nitrogen) loads and relative proportions of point and nonpoint sources. The study highlights differences between the watersheds both as total loads and relative contributions from different sources in the watersheds. The study identifies opportunities for data collection and new approaches that can refine future analysis on a biennial basis.