Public concern about clean Lake Erie bubbles over at packed meeting


OREGON — A large crowd spilled into the hallway at the University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center Thursday,
where international leaders of a joint commission on the Great Lakes listened to people’s concerns about
the ongoing fight against algal blooms and other environmental topics.
The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canada partnership, was formed in 1909 to help sort out
water-related issues along the border. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed in 1972, has been
updated to focus now on reducing the levels of algae-feeding phosphorus in the Great Lakes by 40
percent. The agency does not have regulatory authority, only helping to guide policies and cooperation
between the two countries, which agreed to the phosphorus reduction in 2012.
The meeting was intended to accept comment on two reports that indicate lacking progress toward that goal
in Lake Erie, though many people did not respond directly to those documents, opting instead to share
the importance of the lake to them and offer guidance on the best ways to reduce phosphorus levels.
Domestic action plans for each country are due by February. Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks Hudson and State
Rep. Michael Sheehy, D-Oregon, were present at the meeting, as were representatives for U.S. Sen.
Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green; and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo.
A handful of speakers called for measures that are currently voluntary to be made mandatory, specifically
limits on the application of manure to farm fields. Several called out concentrated animal feeding
operations that create vast amounts of manure, which critics say is heavily applied to fields where it’s
not needed, leading to excess phosphorus levels that end up in Lake Erie.
Dave Housholder, a grain farmer and Portage Township trustee in Wood County, said the state looks the
other way on CAFOs, which are flocking to Ohio due to low levels of regulation. He suggested Ohio adopt
a policy similar to Ontario, which he said requires a certain acreage of land for each animal and a
contract ensuring that waste will be dealt with responsibly.
“Why are we allowing all of these facilities to migrate to Ohio? You migrate to where the regulation is
very lax. Now, Ohio is the go-to state for these facilities.”
Mike Ferner of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie said not enough attention is being paid to manure,
compared to commercial fertilizer. He asked that one of the meeting’s presenters, Karl Gebhardt, use his
experience “as a 19-year lobbyist for the Ohio Farm Bureau” to push legislation in Ohio requiring manure
be applied at the same rate as fertilizer, as well as money to create meaningful enforcement. Gebhardt,
who is the deputy director for water resources of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and executive
director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, did not respond to the question.
Sandy Bihn of Lake Erie Waterkeeper said the two reports under review by IJC do not provide enough
specific information, such as lake-by-lake data. “We want measurements in these reports, tables that
tell us where we’re at.”
Water plant operators in cities are doing a “whale of a job” of producing clear drinking water and
monitoring for algal toxin, but that comes at a tremendous cost that increases water rates and can’t be
implemented by smaller water plants, Bihn said. “This report kind of whitewashes that.”
Bihn said about 100 new CAFOs with large numbers of hogs will be coming to the area between Findlay and
Fort Wayne, Indiana. “That is problematic. That’ll produce the waste, according to studies by the
University of North Carolina, of about 2.4 million people, all applied to the ground and piled up.”
A Canadian IJC commissioner whose term is expiring, Benoît Bouchard, said the Toledo water shutdown in
2014 was the “strongest signal” of an algae problem in the Great Lakes, and this was his first visit to
the Toledo area since then. He encouraged people to stay engaged and not wait for another crisis to push
for improvement.
“It’s a race against God we have,” he said. “Don’t wait for another disaster as the one you had to
understand that the action has to be done now.”

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