Kasich Administration Takes Aggressive New Action to Reduce Nutrient Runoff and Improve Lake Erie Water Quality

Ohio State Capitol
Ohio State Capitol
This post was originally published on this site

July 11, 2018

COLUMBUS—Today Gov. John R. Kasich signed an executive order to initiate aggressive new action by state agencies and their partners toward further reduction of nutrient runoff from watersheds in Lake Erie’s western basin.  Runoff from agricultural fertilizer applications is considered a leading contributor to harmful algae blooms that have plagued the western end of the lake.

“We’ve done a lot to ensure the health of Lake Erie, Ohio’s crown jewel, including investments of more $3 billion since 2011 to improve water quality in the lake and its watershed,” Gov. Kasich said.  “But it’s clear that more aggressive action is needed, especially to reduce or eliminate the algae blooms that have marred the western basin for years.  This executive order is intended to kick those efforts into overdrive.”

The executive order signed by Gov. Kasich today targets eight watersheds in the western basin of Lake Erie that will be considered for designation under state law as “Watersheds in Distress,” based on their high nutrient levels, especially phosphorous from agricultural runoff.  Named in the governor’s executive order are all or portions of the following watersheds:

  • Platter Creek
  • Little Flat Rock Creek
  • Little Auglaize River
  • Eagle Creek
  • Auglaize River
  • Blanchard River
  • St. Marys River
  • Ottawa River

The director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture is directed by this order to consider these watersheds for official designation, under his statutory authority, as “Watersheds in Distress” and to seek consent of the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, as required by law.  Upon consent by the commission, the directors of the state Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency are ordered to recommend a rules package that establishes nutrient management requirements for phosphorus and all other nutrient sources.

These include rules for the use, storage, handling and control of nutrients and the development of management plans for all agricultural land and operations within each designated watershed.  A “Watershed in Distress” designation can be removed only after the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture has confirmed the sustained recovery, restoration and mitigation of factors leading to the original designation.

The governor’s executive order builds upon a number of earlier efforts by state agencies and their partners to improve water quality throughout Ohio.  In recent years, a special focus of this work has been on Lake Erie and its tributaries, with programs aimed at reducing the threat of algae blooms and eliminating the open-lake disposal of dredge material. Ohio has invested more than $3 billion since July 2011 in Lake Erie and its watershed to improve drinking water and wastewater facilities, monitor water quality, plant cover crops, recycle dredge material, install controlled drainage structures on farm fields and fix faulty septic systems.

In early 2015, Gov. Kasich signed legislation to tackle water quality in and around the lake’s western basin by making it illegal to put manure or fertilizer on frozen, snow covered, or rain soaked ground unless proper farming techniques are used; eliminate the disposal of dredge material in Lake Erie by 2020; and modify new and existing wastewater discharge permits for major wastewater plants while expanding monitoring and continuing to limit phosphorus in state waters.  Ohio also reached an agreement with two of its Lake Erie neighbors, the State of Michigan and Province of Ontario, to achieve a 40 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus entering the lake’s western basin by 2025.

A copy of the executive order can be found here and a fact sheet can be found here.