Ohio lawmakers approved new rules for farmers and water treatment plant operators that are designed to reduce the spread of algae blooms in Lake Erie that last year contaminated the drinking water for more than 400,000 people.
The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the legislation that also would move Ohio toward ending the dumping of dredged sediment in the lake.
The bill, which still needs to clear the House, would be the legislature's first step toward tackling the algae since toxins from the blooms left residents around Toledo and in southeastern Michigan without water for two days in August. The blooms also have been linked to oxygen-depleted dead zones in the lake where fish can't survive.
The measure would stop farmers in most cases from spreading manure on frozen or wet farm fields while also setting new rules on dumping material dredged from harbors and rivers along the lake. Both are thought to be a source of the phosphorus in Lake Erie that feeds the algae.
Water plants would also be required to monitor phosphorous levels under the bill.
Both the Ohio Farmers Union and the Ohio Environmental Council have said the changes are good first steps, but they also said they were disappointed that the new rules can expire after five years. They also argued against provisions that allow farmers to spread manure on fields in a few instances when the ground is snow-covered.
Leaders in the legislature and those within Gov. John Kasich's administration have said one of their top priorities this year will be tackling the toxic algae problem.
"Saving Lake Erie requires a new sense of urgency," said Randy Gardner, a Republican from northwestern Ohio. "We know our task isn't finished today."
Research has shown that farm fertilizer is one of the main sources of phosphorus in the lake. But how much is from livestock farmers spreading manure onto frozen fields isn't clear.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation had been against banning farmers from putting manure on frozen fields, but the organization has changed course and now supports the proposal.