No one should be surprised by the toxic algal blooms in western Lake Erie that recently closed the Toledo water treatment plant. Even before passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, environmental regulators were concerned about eutrophication (premature aging due to excessive biological growth) of the lake. Consequently, in the mid-1970s the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued all wastewater treatment plants in the Lake Erie Watershed original permits that limited phosphorous discharges to 1 mg/l. They also initiated activity directed at having phosphorous removed as the sequesting agent in detergents used in the Lake Basin.
The Ohio EPA always attempts to implement the requirements of the Clean Water Act, because the majority of its budget comes from the federal government based on meeting specified goals. Although the CWA called for addressing surface water quality problems on a watershed basis, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Natural Resources had little desire to add additional regulatory activity based on surface water quality to their responsibilities. Consequently, we have been waiting for over 40 years for the farming industry to regulate their runoff and discharges. This is comparable to waiting for the power industry to find cleaner fuel sources.
Some primary sources for phosphorous in Lake Erie are fertilizer runoff from farm fields, livestock manure, urban storm water runoff and home wastewater system discharges. Public wastewater treatment plants, such as Detroit, Toledo, Fort Wayne and Lima, phosphorous discharges are regulated by their permits; however this is still a significant phosphorous load. The Detroit plant had flows approaching 1 billion gallons per day. Also, combined sewer discharges in the Lake Basin have not been completely eliminated.
During the last three years, George Elmaragy, the recently, unjustly fired Ohio EPA surface water director, had given papers to the Ohio Water Environment Association that included satellite photos of the growing algal bloom in the Lake Basin. He also outlined needed programs to mitigate the pending crisis. All of these solutions require strong leadership from our governor and legislature. Since our current governor has demoralized the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Health, and has shown little regard for the environment, I conclude that we desperately need a new governor.
James L. Greener, Rootstown