Tuesday the Ohio House passed a bill designed to help protect drinking water and combat toxic algae growth in Lake Erie. House Bill 61 comes a little less than a year after 500,000 Toledo residents were left without clean drinking water for three days after toxic algae blooms contaminated the water supply in the western Lake Erie basin.

“It’s crucial that we work to protect our state’s most precious natural resource, for the future of the lake and the citizens who make their livelihood near there,” said Rep. Michael P. Sheehy (D-Oregon). “Lawmakers have made this legislation a priority, but we’ve missed an important opportunity to consider the immediacy of the dangers that lie ahead and the need to ensure proper enforcement.”

Specifically, H.B. 61 would prohibit farmers in the western Lake Erie basin from applying fertilizer or manure on frozen ground, saturated soil or during certain wet weather conditions. Violators face civil penalties, including fines of up to $10,000. However, lawmakers provided several exemptions—for farmers who inject fertilizer into the ground or immediately incorporate fertilizer or manure within 24 hours of surface application.

“I appreciate the legislature’s efforts to keep Lake Erie safe and this legislation certainly makes some strides in doing so,” said Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo). “However, it’s taken us almost a year to make any progress, and we’ve not yet come up with lasting solutions. We must continue to work on this issue without delay; we have to do better.”

H.B. 61 also requires publicly-owned treatment plants to monitor phosphorus levels and report them monthly and to evaluate ways to improve reduction. The bill also includes a prohibition on the open-lake dumping of dredged material into Lake Erie and its tributaries.

“We’ve only scratched the surface in coming up with a comprehensive solution to protecting Lake Erie from harmful algal blooms,” said Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson). “We’ve not yet addressed all of the factors that contribute to high phosphorus levels in the lake, and we must do so for the health and future of the area.”

The bill does not include an emergency clause, so it may not be enacted in time to make an impact on harmful algal bloom growth this spring and summer. The bill also does not encompass all farms that use a significant amount of manure on fields, including animal feeding operations.

The House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee will now consider similar Senate-sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 1. 

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