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Toxins Force Ohioans To Stay Away From Lakes Around The State

Dan Konik

The tail end of summer can mean big problems for many of Ohio’s lakes. The combination of farmland runoff and high temperatures is ideal for algae growth, algae that can then produce toxins in the water. 

“If the lake is not safe to be around people aren’t going to come.”

Frustration is mounting for business owners like Stan Grimm. His restaurant, Behm’s Landing, is right on the south end of Grand Lake St. Marys. Grimm says this once bustling gathering place, which has been in his family since the 1930’s, has been suffering for the last ten years because of the toxic algae in the lake.

Grimm says the source of the toxins can be traced back to local farmers.

“Well everybody has their own opinion until they stop the inflow of the nutrients it’s not going to get better,” said Grimm.

The agriculture industry has been in the spotlight for years since the surge of harmful algal blooms in Ohio’s inland lakes and Lake Erie. When it rains, fertilizer and manure can flow off farmland and into streams that feed into these waterways. Those nutrients then become the main source of algae growth and toxins.

State lawmakers have passed several bills to push farmers to practice good nutrient management – for instance, banning farmers from putting fertilizer or manure on frozen or rain soaked fields.

Brandon Kern with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation says farmers are doing a better job at placing fertilizer and manure in the right places at the right time along with taking other steps.

“So we’re working with farmers to make sure that we have the tools in place," said Kern. "You know there are hundreds of thousands of acres across the state of Ohio that have been put into conservation measures which we know based on the research that’s being done by Ohio University and others across the state that help solve the problem and so we’ve got a lot of farmers taking voluntary action to put in place those best land management practices as well.”

But Adam Rissien with the Ohio Environmental Council says that’s still not good enough.

“Toxic algae continues to plague our state and threaten our drinking water.”

He says the laws that are in place, such as the Clean Lake Erie Act, regulate when fertilizer and manure can be applied but, according to Rissien, the best thing the state can do is regulate how much can be applied.

Rissien says, in this case, the main concern is manure. Fertilizer costs farmers money so there’s an economic incentive to not over-apply, but when it comes to livestock farmers the same can’t really be said for manure.

“They have it, they need to get rid of it, it needs to be utilized in some way so there’s an incentive to over-apply manure and the regulations allow for that over-application. That’s what we need to change,” said Rissien.

According to Rissien, Madison Lake in central Ohio, Tappan Lake in northeast Ohio, and East Fork Lake in southwest Ohio have all tested higher than normal for toxins.

But Kern with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation says it’s going to take time to see results from the positive steps farmers are taking.

“The issue in Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys didn’t occur overnight it was kind of the buildup over time and we’re also dealing with changing environmental conditions as well so you know warmer summers more intense rainfalls which – we’re gonna have to change our agricultural practices and quite frankly there are a lot of other contributing factors – not just agriculture as well,” Kern said.

As for Stan Grimm at Behm’s Landing, he says things won’t get better until the large amount of nutrients stop disrupting the lake.

For more on this topic, check out "The State of Ohio" here.

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