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Algae problems have run amuck

A regular reader of Dealer Outlook once commented: “Norm, I can’t believe you are for more regulations.” He was right. I’m definitely not. But when it’s becomes necessary to get less talk and more action, regulation could be the best answer.

I’m referring to the wakeup call of our times: Algae in our waterways - and lots of it.

Attention: Every Thursday night, Bill Korbel, a veteran meteorologist, gives his standard weather forecast on a Long Island cable channel. According to reporter Matt Richtel at TheNew York Times, Korbel then follows up with his weekend toxic algae outlook, pointing out on a map the waterways with high concentrations of algae that have degraded water quality and can even be dangerous.

Are you now thinking what I’m thinking? The last thing we need in boating’s future is having the algae report added to the nightly local marine forecast. But it could happen because the algae problem is growing and lawmakers and regulators are dancing around the subject while our waterways get mucked up in shades of blue and green.

I’m reminded of headlines when Toledo, Ohio, temporarily banned the use of tap water by 500,000 residents when toxic algae bloomed in Lake Erie; when California warned about eating certain crabs because of algae; when four Florida Treasure Coast counties came under algae emergencies; and when “Danger – Avoid All Contact with the Waters” signs went up around Grand Lake St. Mary and Buckeye Lakes in central Ohio. Need I say more?

Our federal government, with Three Stooges-like wisdom, estimates the health and economic costs from algae blooms at $82 million per year nationwide. Try 10 times that, according to most experts. And Congress in 2014 reauthorized the “Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act” to encourage more research, but never provided any funding.

A bunch of manure

It’s no secret that the No. 1 culprit is phosphorus runoff from fertilizer spread on farm lands and from livestock operations. While farm interests like to say more municipal wastewater treatment is the solution, other groups call that a ruse. That’s because, for example, public interest groups like Food & Water Watch now estimate the amount of animal manure produced in the U.S. is 13 times the amount of human waste. Almost all the latter is treated while nearly all manure is land-applied without limits.

Farmers using commercial fertilizers are supposed to hold applications to only what the crop needs. Manure is being applied to get rid of it. In many states, manure is now allowed to be applied at four times the phosphorus rate of commercial fertilizers.

Even more troubling, says the Lake Erie Improvement Association, is the belief that Ohio is adding more big barn poultry and hog operations, mostly undocumented because they don’t need a permit for manure application. So, Ohio’s much touted 4R farming program (Right Rate, Right Source, Right Time, Right Location) excludes manure.

"Algae blooms in Lake Erie have prevented people from safely swimming, boating, or fishing in the lake, even endangering drinking water," said Kristy Meyer, managing director of the Ohio Environmental Council. Earlier this year the legislature passed a bill aimed at reducing agricultural runoff by requiring farmers to take application certification classes. But the measure does not regulate waste from concentrated animal feeding operations.

In Wisconsin recently, the Associated Press reported the Department of Natural Resources recently scaled back needed regulations on factory farms’ manure spreading when the dairy industry complained. Now any regulations will apply only to “sensitive areas” that are, yet, undefined.

Algae is a major problem for boating as it’s rapidly spreading to lakes and waterways virtually coast to coast. Pushing for serious solutions, even if they requires more regulations, should be high on our industry’s policy agenda from here on. Boating needs algae-free waters.


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