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Hurting businesses: Officials take tour of Lake Erie algae bloom –

September 18, 2017

Dave Spangler, vice president of the Lake Erie Charter Association, told people aboard his vessel the noxious algae has driven away 25 to 30 percent of his business, and hurt property values near his lakefront condo.

“Our business is entirely tied to what is going on in the lake,” Mr. Spangler, one of three charter boat captains shuttling 50 attendees out on the water near Maumee Bay State Park, said.

VIDEO: Dave Spangler talks about algal bloom on Maumee Bay 

Customers from past years go elsewhere when it’s this bad. In addition to charter boat captains, algae costs fish-cleaning businesses, bait-and-tackle shops, and fuel docks money, he said.



High levels of Microcystin toxin & E Coli – Advisory at Maumee (OH) State Park

September 3, 2017

Algae advisory keeps many away from Maumee Bay State Park

Signs on Beach: 
Avoid water:
"That looks like spilled paint"
"Has Green globs floating below the Surface"

"Avoid Swallowing Lake Water"

The beaches at Maumee Bay State Park were unusually empty Sunday, and it might not be just the unseasonally cool temperatures keeping swimmers away.

The Lake Erie beach is under a public health advisory because of high levels of microcystin found in Lake Erie, along with high levels of E. coli bacteria.

This advisory has no effect on Toledo drinking water, which remains clear, according to the Toledo Water Quality dashboard.

Some combination of the weather and the algae, which turned parts of the tide a distinct shade of green, kept the Labor Day crowds off the beaches.

“This is dead,” Mary Goldstein said from the beach. “The beach is usually so crowded.”




Time to call Lake Erie what it is — impaired

August 31, 2017

Questions may remain for some about the wisdom of declaring western Lake Erie impaired under the federal Clean Water Act. But reality is knocking at the door. The mayor of Toledo and the governor of Ohio resist this designation. They believe the impaired label will drive away tourists and discourage businesses and people...

Toledo Blade cartoonist: Ohio Farm Bureau & DBM*

August 31, 2017

Toledo Blade: Ohio Farm Bureau's relationship to local fish *DBM = Death by Manure. Credit: Toledo Blade, Kirk Walters[/caption]...

State, federal government need to do more to protect our waterways

August 29, 2017

A fish kill in Williams County on Aug. 17 highlights in stark terms the failure of Ohio in dealing with animal waste and fertilizer runoff into the state’s waterways.

On the same day as about 15,000 fish suffocated when ammonia from manure flowed into Beaver Creek in eastern Williams County, Mike Ferner of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, Frank Szollosi of the National Wildlife Federation, and Sandy Bihn of the Lake Erie Foundation warned The Blade’s editorial board about the dangers of agricultural runoff.

All three agreed that the powerful Ohio Farm Bureau has long had the ear of members of the General Assembly. The Bureau has rightfully fought for property-tax relief for its members. But it has also lobbied against an impairment designation for the western basin of Lake Erie and against stricter rules for fertilizer application. The most glaring and inexcusable protection for farmers is the anonymity they are afforded when their manure is spread on farm fields and it leaches into nearby waterways.


Authorities investigate death of thousands of fish in Williams County, OH [W of Toledo]

August 24, 2017

WEST JEFFERSON, Ohio — Manure spread across more than 100 acres of farmland just before a major thunderstorm rolled in killed “close to 15,000” fish in eastern Williams County’s picturesque Beaver Creek, raising new questions about the strength of rules governing fertilizer application and how well farmers are following them.

The incident is one of at least three in northwest Ohio being investigated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state Department of Agriculture, the state Environmental Protection Agency, and local soil and water conservation districts.

Jeremy Payne, chief wildlife investigator for the Ohio DNR’s District 2 office that covers much of northwest Ohio, told The Blade on Wednesday that 36,800 fish died in Allen County’s Jennings Creek on Aug. 6 and 14,600 fish died in a Hardin County stream on Aug. 4, much in the same manner that the Williams County fish died on Aug. 17.

An additional case is being investigated in Mercer County, although Mr. Payne said that one is in another district. Information about it was not immediately available.

In each case, manure was spread too close to the arrival of a major thunderstorm. Ammonia from the animal waste flowed into nearby creeks, sucking oxygen from the water and leaving fish dead.

VIDEO: Anthony Lemle, Ohio Division of Wildlife


Ohio Division of Wildlife officer Anthony Lemle, next to Beaver Creek near West Jefferson, Ohio on August 23. Fish in the creek were killed after a significant rain event flooded manure into the creek.

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The carnage in Williams County wasn’t immediately known, because Beaver Creek’s water level was too high to do an immediate assessment after the storm, officials said.

The creek was hit by an unusually heavy storm that dumped 2.5 inches of rain on it within hours on Aug. 17.

Anthony Lemle, Ohio DNR state wildlife officer assigned to Williams County, said a local citizen reported dead fish along the Beaver Creek shoreline on Friday. Mr. Lemle was one of nine Ohio DNR officers who scoured nearly 10 miles of the creek near West Jefferson, but had to wait until Saturday to begin their assessment because the creek was holding an unusual amount of water.

When asked how many fish were killed in Williams County, Mr. Payne replied: “Close to 15,000.”

State rules that took effect on July 3, 2015, prohibit manure from being spread when there is a greater than 50 percent chance more than a half-inch of rain will fall within 24 hours. Investigators are trying to determine if fertilizer applicators in each situation disobeyed those rules — or if the fish kills were from freakishly heavy downpours in isolated areas, as sometimes happens despite best weather predictions for a region.

“I think it’s a freak [of nature] that amount of rain fell in that one spot. All of Williams County did not get 2.5 inches,” Mr. Payne said. “Did they know some rain was coming, though? That’s what we’re looking into.”

The Ohio DNR believes it knows who spread the manure in at least a couple of cases, including the one in Williams County, but are withholding information about the applicator and the crop field where it was spread pending the investigation. Violations have not been filed in any of the cases yet, he said.

Under a worst-case scenario, someone found in violation of the rules could be ordered to pay the state of Ohio restitution for the fish kills and face either criminal or civil penalties, he said.

“Every dead fish has a value of some sort,” Mr. Payne said.

He said it is unclear if the manure was generated by a livestock facility large enough to be classified as a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, or if it came from some other type of operation, including one of the many dozens of farms that keep their animal herds just under the CAFO-permitting threshold.



“I don’t know where the manure came from at this point,” Mr. Payne said.

Typically, livestock farmers contract out manure application to others, who spread it on nearby crop fields as part of the industry’s state-approved manure management plans. Those plans are kept secret, because the agriculture industry fears farmers taking the manure will be harassed.

Environmental groups nationwide have called upon stricter controls for manure management, especially as the agricultural industry becomes more consolidated. Farmers are under pressure to produce more meat and crops on less land as Earth’s population continues to expand, the planet’s climate warms, and rural areas become paved with more development.

The concerns have been amplified in the western Lake Erie region in response to the 2014 crisis in which nearly 500,000 Toledo-area residents were warned to stay away from their tap water for nearly three days because of an algal toxin that had temporarily poisoned the water.

Former Toledo City Councilman and two-time mayoral candidate Mike Ferner launched a group called Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie in response to that crisis. It calls for stronger CAFO rules, better manure management, and an impairment status for Lake Erie’s open water in hopes of achieving those two objectives.

“This is absolutely, 100 percent, a discharge into the waters of the U.S. and is a violation of the Clean Water Act,” Mr. Ferner said. “And we demand an immediate investigation using DNA tests. We need to know where this came from and hold the polluters strictly accountable. Not only has this polluter killed untold numbers of fish, but its toxic plume is on the way to Lake Erie where our drinking water comes from.”

Most fish-kill events tend to occur in August, when temperatures rise and creeks are shallow, Mr. Payne said.

Beaver Creek was shallow again on Wednesday, following several days of little or no rain.

“This is the time of year. There’s a lot of manure being spread on fields,” Mr. Lemle said.

Beaver Creek is normally used by smaller fish because of its shallowness. Minnows, sunfish, and bullhead were among those killed last week, but there also were some large northern pike, Mr. Lemle said.

He said he counted 800 dead fish himself.

Fertilizer in that area either flows off the surface of fields or through tiles beneath the surface. Many of those tiles drain directly into Beaver Creek.

Most fish that weren’t recovered have mostly decayed at the bottom of the creek, Mr. Lemle said.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which regulates farms that produce manure, will decide what course of action to take once more is known about the investigation, Brett Gates, ODA deputy communications director, said.

The Ohio EPA has had staffers visit the site, and has initiated an investigation into potential violations, agency spokesman James Lee said.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com419-724-6079 or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.


Algal blooms cost Ohio homeowners $152 million over 6 years

August 17, 2017

Property values fall, as do fishing license sales, two studies find - first ever (OSU)

COLUMBUS, Ohio—In a new study, researchers at The Ohio State University estimate algal blooms at two Ohio lakes cost Ohio homeowners $152 million in lost property value over six years.

Meanwhile, a related study suggests that algae is driving anglers away from Lake Erie, causing fishing license sales to drop at least 10 percent every time a bloom reaches a moderate level of health risk. Based on those numbers, a computer model projects that a severe, summer-long bloom would cause up to $5.6 million in lost fishing revenue and associated expenditures by anglers.

Those are the main findings from the first two studies ever to put a precise dollar value on algae impact, both on Lake Erie and two recreational lakes in Ohio. One study appears in the journal Ecological Economics, and the other in the Journal of Environmental Management.

“Our biggest takeaway is that efforts to prevent and mitigate algal blooms have real, tangible benefits for Ohioans, including property values,” said Allen Klaiber, associate professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State.

In the first study, he and doctoral student David Wolf found that property values near two algae-infested lakes in the state’s interior fell $152 million from 2009 to 2015. Sale prices for homes within one third of a mile of a lake fell 11 to 17 percent during that time, while prices for lake-adjacent homes fell more than 22 percent.

A number of additional factors that influence property values were included in the analysis to ensure that the observed losses in property values were directly attributable to changes in water quality. For example, seasonal trends in the housing market, differences in structural characteristics across homes, and spatially varying provision of public services such as school quality were all controlled for in the analysis.

Most of the losses were felt by residents around Buckeye Lake, just east of Columbus. There, residents collectively lost $101 million in home sales over six years. Grand Lake St. Marys in northwest Ohio felt a smaller but still significant loss of $51 million.

Turning to Lake Erie, the researchers teamed with doctoral student Will Georgic to examine state revenue from sport fishing, which contributes to a $1.7 billion tourism industry. They found that once algae levels reach a “moderate” threshold as described by the World Health Organization (WHO), fishing license sales within 12 miles of Lake Erie dropped 10 to 13 percent.


Toledo Blade hosts editorial forum on health of Lake Erie

August 17, 2017

Activists call for 'impaired' designation for western basin

hree local environmental activists called on Toledo and Ohio leaders Thursday to more vigorously pursue “impaired” status for western Lake Erie under the Clean Water Act, arguing that merely monitoring pollutants after they’ve entered the lake will not solve the lake’s algae problem.

While Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich say such a designation would stigmatize the area, “Our region already has a black mark on it, and you can see it from outer space,” Mike Ferner of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie said.

Mr. Ferner, a former Toledo city councilman and mayoral candidate, was referring to the green expanse of algae that once again has erupted across western Lake Erie. He spoke during a Blade editorial-board forum that was live-streamed on Facebook. The video is available for viewing on Buckeye Broadband.

Past algal blooms have been documented in satellite photographs, including the bloom in 2014, which produced so much toxic microcystin that Toledo’s drinking-water supply was shut down for more than two days that August.

Mr. Ferner was joined on the panel by Frank Szollosi of the National Wildlife Federation, also a former Toledo councilman, and Sandy Bihn of the Lake Erie Foundation.

Ms. Bihn said there is no direct impact from declaring a body of water “impaired,” nor does such a designation impose any schedule on authorities for developing an action plan to address the impairment.

But without such a designation, she said, no serious effort will be made to identify and quantify sources of chemical nutrients that enter Lake Erie through its tributary rivers and streams, and promote toxic algae growth.

Agricultural fertilizers lead among those sources, she and the other panelists agreed. Large volumes of cow manure also play a role, especially as industrial-scale dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations grow in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan


Scavia (UM)- Nutrient pollution:Voluntary steps are failing to shrink algae blooms

August 1, 2017

Summer is the season for harmful algae blooms in many U.S. lakes and bays. They occur when water bodies become overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus from farms, water treatment plants and other sources. Warm water and lots of nutrients promote rapid growth of algae that can be toxic and potentially fatal to aquatic life and people.

Eventually algae settle to the bottom and decay, depleting dissolved oxygen in the water, creating hypoxia – “dead zones” where oxygen levels are low enough to kill fish.

As a senior scientist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration between 1975 and 2003, I developed annual hypoxia forecasts for the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico – two of our nation’s water bodies most harmed by these blooms. At the University of Michigan, I helped develop harmful algae bloom forecasts for Lake Erie and continue to work with public and private organizations on these issues.

 Professor of Environment and Sustainability; Professor of Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan