Ohio governor signs executive order to fight harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

SANDUSKY, Ohio - We love our lake. For many, it's one of the best parts about living in Northeast Ohio, but no one loves the toxic algal blooms that continue to show up and to grow in Lake Erie. 

The blooms have been causing concern for years.

Ohio Governor John Kasich signed an executive order on Wednesday that he says will combat the problem. 

According to Sarah Orlando, with Ohio State's Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, explained why the algae is harmful due to toxins it produces. Orlando is the program manager for Ohio Clean Marinas. 

"If you see what looks like pea green soup or something in the water that could be an algal bloom, still enjoy a wonderful day on the beach or in your boat, just don't get in the water," Orlando said. 

Levels aren't high enough in the Greater Cleveland area to cause concern for illness, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Check the algae and bacteria levels of Ohio beaches for yourself here.

"The challenge that we have is trying to keep the phosphorus on the land where it is used to grow wonderful crops and agriculture or grass and keeping it out of the water," Orlando explained. 

Kasich's executive order will create new regulations aimed at reducing fertilizer, manure or phosphorous runoff from farming and agriculture that is feeding the algal blooms. 

State officials have said the voluntary practices in place aren't making enough of an impact.

Orlando can only speak to the science, not the politics, but told News 5 minimizing the runoff would mean a healthier lake. 

"The reality is if we are able to reduce our phosphorus loading our input into Lake Erie, the recovery time to recover and see a reduction in these harmful algal blooms will be almost immediate," Orlando said. 

Orlando said we can all help combat the problem by being mindful of the fertilizer we use on grass and in gardens and to make sure they are non-phosphorus. She also said septic tanks need to be properly maintained. 

The Ohio Farm Bureau, which has pushed back against increased regulations like these that will impact them, said the governor did not discuss the regulation with Ohio's agriculture community, leaving farmers with "frustration, questions and uncertainty on both the process and implications of this order."

“We can’t even react to the specific regulations he’s proposing; we haven’t seen them,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau.

The following was included in a statement from the Ohio Farm Bureau:

Kasich’s order has no realistic recognition of the time nor the financial or educational resources required for farmers to comply.  Regulations created under the order may conflict with multiple layers of existing regulation. There are also significant concerns about the science applied, the processes through which the order will be enacted and the specific authorities of the multiple state agencies charged with carrying out the order. 

Sharp said Farm Bureau will take the rare step of filing a formal public records request in order to gain clarity on some of these issues.

The Farm Bureau said it supports the passage of Clean Lake 2020, which became law on Wednesday. This provides funding of up to $20 million in a targeted phosphorus reduction fund, $3.5 million to support soil testing and the development of nutrient management plans, among other provisions, recognizing the complex needs of farmers in the process, according to the Farm Bureau.

A statement from Ohio Corn, Soybean and Wheat Farmers also condemns Kasich's regulatory action.

“Today, Governor Kasich and administration officials made it seem that if farmers do a nutrient management plan for their farm, Lake Erie will never see an algal bloom again. That is wrong,” said Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association Executive Director Tadd Nicholson. “What is true is that farmers have adopted best management practices including nutrient management plans, have invested millions of dollars in research and education, and even supported reasonable regulations to address water quality.”

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