Algae bloom on Lake Erie is creating a major headache for Toledo and other major cities in Northern Ohio. The algae bloom is creating a toxin which cannot be effectively removed at water treatment plants, leading to Toledo banning the consumption of tap water over the last weekend.
Ohio regulators have determined that farmers need further education in fertilizer use and is instituting a policy that farmers earn a certification on the topic. This would be the most sweeping step taken to date to control farm fertilizer runoff, believed to be one of the primary causes of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
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Fertilizer licenses to be required by Ohio
Ohio’s agricultural regulators say the new licenses that will become mandatory in 2017 require farmers to take a one-day class on fertilizer management. The regulators say this in-depth training say it will reduce fertilizer use as farmers learn how they can apply less without significantly impacting their crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm.
State officials and farm organization leaders highlight the certification as a sign of Ohio resolve to tackle the algae bloom problem.
Statements from environmental organizations
Although Ohio’s fertilizer licenses are certainly a step in the right direction, many environmental organizations argue more aggressive steps are required to prevent more incidents like what happened in Toledo. “This isn’t a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they’re doing,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group. “This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector.”
The major role of fertilizers in the algae problems in Lake Erie and other water bodies is gaining attention. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation was a supporter of the legislation. “This is a big deal. We recognize it, and we’re going to resolve it,” explained Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy for the farm bureau.
The relatively lackluster response by farmers and regulators across the Midwest to the algae bloom issue has been criticized from environmental groups who don’t see much progress. Several organizations have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try and force the agency to set limits on nutrient levels for lakes and rivers.
“Regulators have been afraid to do something about this problem. We think what is going on in Ohio should serve as a wake-up call,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.