Ahead of votes, Ohio leaders praise rules for farmers to reduce Lake Erie's toxic algae

New rules for farmers aimed at helping cut down the toxic algae in Lake Erie are a step toward improving water quality while providing clear regulations for the agricultural industry, Ohio legislative leaders said Wednesday.

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The wide-ranging proposal is expected to be voted out of the Ohio House and Senate on Wednesday afternoon.

The bill would stop farmers in northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on frozen and rain-soaked fields. It also would bring an end to the dumping of dredged sediment in the lake within five years. Both are thought to be contributing to the growth of algae in the lake.

The measure would be the first passed in an effort to slow the spread of the algae since August, when a toxin contaminated the drinking water for more than 400,000 people in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

Senate President Keith Faber told reporters at a Statehouse news conference that the bill would help provide Ohioans access to "clean water, not green water." At the same time, he said the rules allow the agriculture industry to remain viable.

"But viability should not be confused with a lack of environmental stewardship," added Faber, a Celina Republican. "Excessive use of chemical fertilizers or organic fertilizers is unacceptable, and this bill will make meaningful changes to that process."

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The bill's sponsors said they did not foresee any large hurdles in implementing the regulations, which would have to go through further rule-making review. They anticipated that farmers would have more details on the new standards by December.

"I think the statute is pretty clear as to what's expected," said Sen. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican. He said the proposal incorporates many best practices already in place for farmers.

Gardner said he expected further discussion over how to enhance the bill's impact during debate over the state's two-year budget. Ideas could include more support for soil testing, tributary monitoring and conservation measures.

He also said he'd like to see a regional conference of environmental groups and local leaders to help take a more comprehensive approach to addressing algae problems.

"It's not all about Ohio," he told reporters. "It's about Indiana and Michigan and Ontario — at least those states."