By Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
Promising that it's just one more step, the Ohio House today unanimously approved a bill designed to control agricultural fertilizer runoff that contributes to algal blooms on Lake Erie like those that briefly contaminated Toledo's water supply last summer.
Critics characterized the bill as not strong enough while backers of its provisions argued that the state has to proceed carefully so as not to undermine the state's number-one industry.
But in the end all came together to support the bill, knowing that it's likely to have little effect, if any, on this year's algal bloom season.
Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) told her colleagues about awakening on the morning of Aug. 2 to the warning that Toledo area residents "can't touch the water ... It was so scary."
"We're taking such a baby step on this...," she said. "This is real stuff ... I implore you to do much, much more and take the politics out of it."
Rep. Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), a farmer who chaired the committee that fashioned the bill, argued that agriculture "stepped up" even though it is only part of the problem causing the nutrient load in Lake Erie.
"I'm regulating my own industry," he said. "This is what I do ... I know (House Bill 61) doesn't go as far as some would like to see, but we all realize this is a beginning ... It really isn't politics to me. It's our number-one industry."
The bill restricts application of manure and chemical fertilizers at times when the ground is frozen, snow-covered, or otherwise saturated and when the forecast calls for significant precipitation. In some cases, that means farmers will have to invest in storage facilities to keep manure until it can be spread.
The bill seeks to prohibit the open-lake dumping of sediment dredged from harbors and ports by 2020 with its focus on the Maumee watershed.
It also requires monthly phosphorous monitoring by larger water treatment plants.
House Bill 61 now heads to the Senate, which already passed its own bill. Senate Bill 1 contains many of the same restrictions and penalties, but critics argue that the House version will be tougher to enforce.
The House version also lacks the Senate bill's emergency clause allowing it to take effect immediately upon Gov. John Kasich's signature rather than wait the usual 90 days. By then, Lake Erie's algal bloom season could be well under way.
Neither bill addresses large-scale livestock operations which are instead covering by administrative rules and operating permits.
The two chambers will now have to decide which measure to ultimately send to the governor's desk.
HOUSE BILL 61 AT A GLANCE:
--Prohibits spreading manure and other fertilizers containing phosphorous and nitrogen when ground is frozen, snow-covered, or saturated.
--Prohibits spreading manure if the forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of half an inch of precipitation over 24 hours or, for spreading dry fertilizers, an inch over 12 hours.
--Makes exemptions if the fertilizers are injected into the soil, promptly plowed under, or applied to growing winter crops, or if the state determines an emergency exists.
--Calls for working with the federal government toward banning open lake dumping of sediment dredged from harbors and ports by 2020 with the focus on the Maumee watershed.
--Requires larger public water treatment plants to monthly monitor phosphorous levels beginning on Dec. 1, 2016.
--Authorizes the state to impose fines of up to $10,000 but only after attempts to work with the violator to correct the problem have failed.
--Calls for a legislative review after three years of the effectiveness of the fertilizer restrictions.