Misnamed ‘Clean Lake 20/20’ took taxpayers to the cleaners

By Mike Ferner

Supporters of the misnamed “Clean Lake 2020” (HB 643) claim they’ve “done something” for Lake Erie, but what they’ve really done is take ownership of the toxic algal bloom sure to reappear this summer.

Let’s do the numbers:

Of $36,000,000 appropriated, $2.6 million is to upgrade OSU’s Stone Lab to see what ails Lake Erie; $10 million for “projects to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials,” leaving over $23 million for more of the same measures that have made Lake Erie a national poster child for toxic algal blooms.

Who can oppose more money to research Lake Erie? But if we didn’t allow factory “farms” to dump untreated animal waste equal to Chicago and Los Angeles’ sewage on fields draining into the lake, it wouldn’t be such a science project. $10 million for “projects” addressing open lake dumping sounds good, assuming legislators who voted for it could name just one.

The rest goes to agricultural practices like grassed waterways, filter strips, no-till, and manure injection, all proven failures at keeping dissolved or “soluble” Phosphorus, the key to algal blooms, out of the lake.

State Senator Randy Gardner, who calls himself a friend of the lake, claims these measures work. Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie say they don’t and here’s proof:

· The Ohio EPA’s 2018 “Nutrient Mass Balance Study” (pg. 22): the amount of phosphorus dumped into Lake Erie by the Maumee River increased from 2,200 metric tons in 2013 to 3,000 metric tons in 2017.

· OSU’s Ohio Sea Grant data: beginning in 1974, dissolved phosphorus in Lake Erie declined for 20 years, but since CAFOs were introduced in the mid-‘90s it has climbed back to 1974 levels when wastewater plants were still dumping raw sewage and phosphorus was still in detergents

· “Phosphorus losses from monitored fields with conservation practices in the Lake Erie Basin, USA,” a report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that states in part: “No-tillage doubled SP (soluble Phosphorus) loading… grassed waterways were shown to increase SP loads…None of the conservation practices tested made an impact on concentrations and loads of SP or Total Phosphorus through subsurface tile discharge. Most of the conservation practices applied to fields were developed to decrease sediment loss from fields…the common knowledge was that if you stop the sediment you will stop the Phosphorus. This mindset has been disproven.”

“Clean Lake 2020” is not only a misnamed waste of tax dollars but even worse, it diverts attention away from what we know works – the Clean Water Act (CWA). That is no accident.

The CWA’s impaired watershed process, used successfully for Chesapeake Bay, establishes who’s putting what and how much into streams. It has legally enforceable limits and timetables. In other words it has accountability, something polluters like the confined animal feeding operations avoid like the plague.

One final point, sadly, needs to be added. Some legislators held their noses and voted for this bill, partly because old-line environmental groups like the Ohio Environmental Council and the Lake Erie Foundation supported it. If you ask them why, you’ll get a red-faced “well, it’s better than nothing” response.

“Better than nothing” no longer gets it and in this case isn’t even true. Real friends of the lake are waking up and paying attention to what’s being done in our name.

Ferner is coordinator of the Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, the group that is suing the US EPA to commence a cleanup similar to that at Chesapeake Bay. Email him at mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net