Ohio phosphorus report makes recommendations for healthier water

COLUMBUS — State agencies say a recent report on phosphorus reduction will help the state’s efforts to control nutrient loading of water bodies and potentially help reduce Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie.

The Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force II report was released Nov. 13. It assesses the latest nutrient research and data, tracks the progress of current nutrient reduction efforts and makes 20 new recommendations for controlling nutrient runoff.

The report builds on the work of the first task force report, which was released in 2010. That report highlighted research that showed dissolved phosphorus, rather than particulate phosphorus, was driving the growth of algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

“The biggest benefit of this report is the hours the task force spent collecting and poring over the latest research and data,” said David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “Their work provides policymakers with a valuable snapshot of the current progress being made in the development of best practices and also identifies where additional research is needed.”

Taking action is a must, according to James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“The state of Ohio is committed to improving water quality, and any research, recommendations or ideas that help us reach that goal are encouraging,” he said.

Background

In 2012, the Ohio EPA, in partnership with ODA and ODNR, and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, reconvened the task force to build upon the findings of the 2010 report and assess new research and information. The task force includes a wide range of participants.

Key points

The full report is more than 100 pages and can be viewed online at cleanlakes.ohio.gov. Here are some key points:

• Nutrient impairment continues to plague Lake Erie impacting an $11.5 billion tourism industry and causing increased treatment costs to public water supplies.

• Land managers and policy makers want to avoid any unintended consequences while reducing algal blooms. An adaptive management process will be critical for continued improvement.

• While rainfall patterns and storm events will continue to drive the scope of algal blooms in future years, sustained efforts to reduce nutrient loading will reduce the blooms overall. These efforts need to build upon the success achieved over the last 20-30 years in sediment reductions with conservation tillage practices.

• The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded more than 74 projects in Ohio totaling nearly $85 million. These projects span the Ohio Lake Erie basin and focus on a variety of activities including (but not limited to) pollutant reduction, habitat restoration and invasive species control.

• As of April 2013, the Healthy Lake Erie Fund has enabled farmers to put to use agricultural nutrient reduction practices on more than 35,000 acres of farmland in the Western Lake Erie Basin watershed. More than 290 farmers in Henry, Wood, Putnam, Defiance, and Hancock counties are currently using these new conservation practices, with more expected to participate.

Phosphorus reductions:

• The task force recommends a 37 percent reduction in the average spring total phosphorus load of 1,275 metric tons for 2007-12, or a target of 800 metric tons. The 2007-12 time period was selected to better address predicted increases in the frequency of severe storms due to climate change.

• For annual total phosphorus loads the task force recommends a 39 percent reduction from the average annual total phosphorus load from 2007-12 of 2,630 metric tons, or a target of 1,600 metric tons. Achieving these targets will significantly reduce HABs.

• For dissolved reactive phosphorus, the task force recommends a spring loading reduction of 41 percent in the average spring load from 2007-12 of 256 metric tons or a target of 150 metric tons.

• The task force is confident that restricting loads to this level or lower will significantly reduce or eliminate HABs. Concentration recommendations for the lake could be developed but will require further discussion and a review of the effectiveness of the proposed targets through adaptive management process.

Lawn care industry:

• The elimination of phosphorus in lawn maintenance products by The Scotts Company resulted in an annual reduction of 158 tons of phosphorus sold at retail locations throughout Ohio (based on a 2010 baseline).

• The adoption of BMPs and a voluntary commitment to limited use of phosphorus by Ohio’s professional lawn care industry represents an additional estimated reduction of more than 300 tons annually.

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