TOLEDO, Ohio – A plan to slow down some of what's feeding the toxic algae in Lake Erie will be back in front of state lawmakers early next year.
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The Ohio Legislature ran out of time within the last few weeks to pass new rules for farmers and water treatment plant operators in an attempt to improve water quality.
A key state lawmaker behind the bill, which would ban farmers in northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on frozen and saturated fields, expects those proposals to come back before the Legislature in January.
"We have to address it as soon as possible," said Rep. Dave Hall, a Republican from Millersburg.
Several in the Legislature and within Ohio Gov. John Kasich's administration say a top priority in the coming year will be tackling the toxic algae that left residents around Toledo and in southeastern Michigan without water for two days in early August.
Since then, lawmakers have been studying the problem and trying to come up solutions.
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Their first step is the proposal that would ban the spread of manure on frozen fields or if heavy rain is in the immediate forecast and set new rules on dumping dredged sediment in Lake Erie. Both are thought to contribute to the algae blooms that produce dangerous toxins. Another provision would require water treatment plants to monitor for phosphorus that fuels the algae.
None of those ideas have much opposition, but they were part of a bill overloaded with other contested provisions that killed its chances of passing.
Hall said the water quality standards will come back as a separate piece of legislation.
Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said there's a chance the proposed ban on spreading manure in northwestern counties could be expanded to the rest of the state.
"That's a huge issue that we will have to revisit," he said.
Another big question is how much funding will be available next year to take on the algae.
Ohio, Michigan and Indiana will share nearly $12 million from the U.S. EPA to improve water quality testing, to forecast the algae blooms and to encourage farmers to cut down on the fertilizer and manure runoff that contributes to the problem. Money also has been set aside by the state to help farmers add drainage systems and to plant cover crops to reduce runoff.
The upcoming state budget will likely direct more money toward algae reduction, Hall said. Some of that could include improving water treatment plants and helping farmers find new ways of storing manure instead of dumping it on top of their fields.
Sen. Randy Gardner, a Republican from northwestern Ohio who has drawn attention to the algae problem, said there's no question Lake Erie will be a priority going forward.
"The key thing is that the legislative leadership and the governor know this is a key economic and environmental issue facing Ohio," he said.