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EPA Approves Ohio TMDL Nutrients Plan
By Todd Neeley
Wednesday, October 4, 2023 9:21AM CDT

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- EPA approved Ohio's plan to reduce phosphorus runoff from farms into the western basin of Lake Erie nine years after Toledo residents were warned to boil drinking water during a three-day period because of an algae bloom in the lake.

The state has taken a number of steps in an attempt to curb nutrient runoff from farms and other sources in years since the bloom in 2014, including expanding voluntary conservation measures.

The plan, approved by EPA last week, is designed to reduce phosphorus runoff into the Maumee River by establishing a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for phosphorus in the watershed.

"Ohio's plan is but one tool that we are using, and I pledge to you that EPA is using and will expand use of other tools," EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore stated in a news release.

"Addressing the problem of algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie will take all of us. It will take unflagging commitment and resolve. And it will take time."

The TMDL plan establishes what EPA said is the total amount of phosphorus the western basin can receive and remain healthy. A TMDL is essentially a pollution diet aimed at reducing the use of nutrients in watersheds. That is expected to place a cap on phosphorus runoff.

In addition, the EPA said in a news release that funds will be used through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to support research and projects to decrease nutrient loading in the watershed, among other actions.

In 2019, the Environmental Law and Policy Center sued EPA, telling the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Ohio that the agency's approval of the state's TMDL in 2018 was "arbitrary and capricious" and it violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Tom Zimnicki, director of agriculture and restoration policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said in a statement the approved TMDL doesn't go far enough to restore the western basin.

"Despite millions of dollars of investment over decades, it remains plagued by chronic harmful algal blooms," he said.

"A TMDL is an important tool in combating these blooms and the nutrients that feed them," Zimnicki said. "However, in its decision, U.S. EPA has doubled down on the same tired, status quo approach that led Ohio to need a TMDL in the first place. As it stands, the approved TMDL does not address crucial elements needed to improve Lake Erie water quality."

In February 2019, Toledo voters approved a so-called Lake Erie "bill of rights" that empowered Toledo citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the lake, potentially threatening farmers who operate in states bordering the lake, as well as in Canada.

A month after the Toledo vote, Mark Drewes, a farmer from Custer, Ohio, filed a federal lawsuit alleging the measure violates his constitutional rights. A federal judge found the measure to be unconstitutional.

In 2019, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled the voluntary "H2Ohio" initiative to invest in several steps to address phosphorous runoff.

In 2021, the state added 10 counties to the H2Ohio program, raising the total number of counties in the program to 24.

Read more on DTN:

"Western Lake Erie Pollution Diet in Works," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @DTNeeley

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