A welcome but tardy tide of Great Lakes legislation washes over Congress

What a difference an environmental disaster makes.

Last week, Congress was awash in bipartisan legislation to prevent harmful algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie. Ohio itself recently enacted a tough law aimed in part at farm fertilizer and manure runoff implicated in the problem.

A year ago — silence.

What happened in the interim? Nearly 500,000 people in the Toledo area couldn’t drink water out of the tap for three days last August when algal bloom-related microcystin — a liver toxin — was found in treated water at the Toledo water treatment plant.

The flood of bipartisan action at the federal level is especially noteworthy. On Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, a Niles Democrat, Dave Joyce, a Russell Township Republican, and Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, introduced a bill that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to appoint a toxic-green-scum point person to coordinate initiatives aimed at reducing nutrient runoff — the fuel of toxic blooms — at the federal, state and local levels.

On Wednesday, Republican U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, of the Cincinnati area, and Mark Kirk of Illinois introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015 to preserve funding of the Great Lakes initiative at $300 million annually for fiscal years 2016 through 2020. Similar legislation was introduced in the House by Joyce in January and currently has 34 co-sponsors from across the Great Lakes states.

The bills were prompted by recent cuts proposed by President Barack Obama, who launched the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2010 to target toxic hot spots and implement strategies to address phosphorus runoff, among other projects.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, a Bowling Green Republican, reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would, by 2020, prohibit the dumping of dredged sediment in the open waters of these 10,000-year-old liquid assets. The Protecting Our Great Lakes Act mirrors an executive order that Gov. John Kasich signed in February.

Sadly, none of this comes in time to likely impact the size of Lake Erie algal blooms this year. Laura Johnson, a research scientist at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, predicts the lake’s western basin is on track to experience blooms similar in size to last year.

Next year is another story.

 

Photo: The 2011 algal bloom that ate Lake Erie. (AP Photo)

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