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Environment & Climate Change

Discussing solutions to Lake Erie's toxic blooms

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Michigan Radio’s Issues & Ale discussion series traveled to Toledo Monday night for the station’s first event of this kind in Ohio. The event took place at Black Cloister Brewing Company and focused on Lake Erie’s toxic cyanobacteria blooms and the safety of Toledo’s water.

It’s a hot button issue for many area residents, as more than a dozen protesters showed up before the event to express their displeasure with the Ohio EPA and their handling of the situation.

Hosting the event was Michigan Radio reporter and Stateside host Lester Graham. Panelists included:

  • Sandy Bihn, Executive Director, Lake Erie Waterkeeper
  • Karl Gebhardt, Deputy Director for Water Resources, Ohio EPA, and Executive Director, Ohio Lake Erie Commission
  • Tom Henry, staff writer, The Toledo Blade
  • Yvonne Lesicko, Vice President, Public Policy, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

In the summer of 2014, toxic bacteria in Lake Erie forced some 400,000 people in the Toledo area to stop bathing in or drinking their tap water. Referring to that crisis, Karl Gebhardt said, “We learned a lot statewide about water, how to treat it, how to be monitoring for it, and how to appreciate it when we do have good, clean drinking water.”
Excess phosphorus  and nitrogen in the water is considered to be the cause of the harmful blooms in Lake Erie that continue to be a problem every summer. Much of that phosphorus can be traced to the use of fertilizer and manure from farms in the Maumee River watershed.

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Host Lester Graham (left) along with panelists Tom Henry, Yvonne Lesicko, Karl Gebhardt and Sandy Bihn.

According to Tom Henry, “The Ohio EPA put out a report that 83% of the phosphorus coming down the Maumee River…was from agriculture.”

Responding to the criticism of farming practices, Yvonne Lesicko commented, “Farmers have not been averse to regulation. We have fully supported (Ohio) Senate Bill 1…that does not allow a farmer to apply (fertilizer) on frozen, snow-covered or rain adverse ground.”

Asked if she’s confident that Ohio regulators and the farm community’s voluntary efforts will solve the problem, Sandy Bihn replied, “Not at all.” She continued, “You can’t add more animals…hogs, cows and poultry…into a watershed that’s already burdened with too many nutrients and expect it to change.” 

For the full conversation, listen above.