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Lake Erie’s BS Problem

The last few weeks haven’t been good for boating interests in Ohio as the state announced a new program that could reduce algae blooms in Lake Erie, while a proposal to build electric turbines in the lake also got a boost.

At first blush, one might assume any new program that could help reduce the algae-feeding runoff into Lake Erie would be drawing rave reviews. A new state program called the “Ohio Working Lands Small Grains” was designed to encourage healthier waters and less fertilizer use.

“We are committed to working with farmers to achieve shared goals,” Governor Mike DeWine said in a statement last month when the program was announced. “This is a program that both supports farmers and helps protect Lake Erie. Through my H2Ohio initiative, we will continue to invest in Lake Erie and in efforts to improve water quality across Ohio.”

Not so fast, says the Lake Erie Waterkeeper, part of the Waterkeeper Alliance that unites more than 300 Waterkeeper affiliates that patrol and protect more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastal waterways on six continents. The new program may actually be encouraging farmers to use too much manure, and that will end up in Lake Erie, contends the Lake Erie Waterkeeper.

Specifically, the program calls for farmers to voluntarily plant small grains such as wheat, barley, oats or rye. The Waterkeepers contend, however, that it will actually trigger farmers to apply more manure as fertilizer to the land than is needed, thereby increasing the nutrient runoff threat to the lake. After all, it has been well documented that the increased spreading of manure as fertilizer has been a major source of nitrogen and phosphorus washing off farms into the creeks and rivers that feed western Lake Erie.

According to Sandy Bihn of the Waterkeeper, the new program will offer farmers $75 an acre to apply manure with a soil phosphorus allowance of 150 parts per million. That exceeds the program’s original limit of 50 ppm, which is all that is needed for crops. It is “simply wrong” for Ohio taxpayers to pay for excessive manure applications that increase the runoff risk to Lake Erie. There is also concern that the increasing numbers of confined livestock in Ohio, which produce more manure, also add to harmful algae problems in Lake Erie.

“Lake Erie Waterkeeper will be submitting a request to the DeWine administration for manure to be managed like commercial fertilizer, with manure precision phosphorous applications, and any excess manure treated and managed as a waste,” Bihn said.

Meanwhile, to compound the concern, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released its early forecast. It predicts Lake Erie’s 2019 annual harmful algae bloom this summer will be more severe than last year, thanks to heavy April rains. Just how large the annual spread of toxic blue-green algae will actually be this summer depends on how much rain Northwestern Ohio receives from now through July, and how much phosphorus runs off farms into the Maumee River watershed.

The Wind Turbine Fight Continues

The boat owners, marine industry, various environmental groups and others battling to save Lake Erie from the construction of wind turbines off Cleveland got handed a setback late last week, but they vow the fight is far from over.

The Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) announced last Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with the staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) on the construction and operation of LEEDCo's proposed wind energy project, “Icebreaker.”

The OPSB regulates the siting of wind farms with a generating capacity of 5 or more megawatts (MW) and solar farms with a generating capacity of 50 or more MW. LEEDCo must have OPSB’s approval to construct and, if granted, it will be the first wind farm of its size in fresh water.

The OPSB staff originally issued a recommendation last summer that the Icebreaker project be given the green light pending 34 qualifications. The recommendation was withdrawn, and no OPSB action was taken, as LEEDCo claimed some of the 34 qualifications made it impossible to proceed. Since then, LEEDCo has been negotiating down the qualifications, primarily environmental considerations.

“We are disappointed the OPSB staff has chosen to weaken rather than improve the important environmental qualifications they first recommended,” said Michelle Burke, president of the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “But that action notwithstanding, what has clearly been needed since Icebreaker was first proposed is a full Environmental Impact Statement as called for in federal law.”

Burke added that a weak Environmental Assessment, “organized and paid for by LEEDCo as part of its application, is simply not sufficient” since Lake Erie is the source of drinking water for millions of Ohio residents. “Moreover, while LEEDCo proposes Icebreaker will be six turbines off Cleveland, its longer-range plan is to build up to 1600 more such installations in the lake. That intention alone makes the need for a full Environmental Impact Statement paramount.”

The next meeting in which OPSB could possibly consider the application will be in July.

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