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MARKEY: Senator concerned about Lake Erie

07/01/2014, 12:00am EDT
By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Algal blooms just one of many threats

Senator concerned about Lake Erie

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) discusses the health of Lake Erie Saturday. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

There was no place for clearly drawn party lines, no entrenched camps of opposing philosophical viewpoints, and no polarizing political postures evident early Saturday evening when U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) spoke to a group focused only on the health of Lake Erie.

The informal confab took place near the gas dock at Meinke Marina West, just a few hundred yards from the big lake which is besieged by issues including but not limited to explosive blooms of harmful algae, sediment dumping, and invasive species.

The crowd included conservationists, anglers, water quality specialists, charter boat captains, environmentalists, farmers, tourism officials, biologists, and a few seasonal residents of the marina. They wanted to know what Washington is doing to protect the lake, and Portman laid out a whole tackle box of legislation, initiatives, and programs.

Senator Portman said a bill that he and Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) put together to reauthorize the research and response framework to deal with harmful algal blooms had recently cleared the Senate, and on Monday, President Obama signed it into law.

Harmful algal blooms, which often can be accompanied by dangerous toxins, have threatened the drinking water of millions of residents along Lake Erie, and cost cities and municipal water systems millions of dollars for additional treatment of drinking water.

The frequency and severity of these algal blooms have been linked to increased nutrient loading in waterways, due primarily to sewage treatment plant overflow septic systems and runoff from agricultural fertilizer and manure.

Portman said the reworked bill contains special consideration for bodies of freshwater, including the Great Lakes.

“We changed the legislation, streamlined some programs, and improved it,” Portman said. “Ohio had more input into this than any other state.”

He said harmful algal blooms are “a huge freshwater issue.” He cited not only the major algae problems on Lake Erie, but also those on Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake, along with the millions spent by the city of Toledo on additional treatment of its water, and the nearly $1 million the city of Columbus had to spend dealing with a recent algae bloom on Hoover Reservoir.

“It’s coming home to all of us,” Portman said. The bill would increase spending on the issue from $12.6 million to $20.5 million.

Senator Portman also said he shares the frustration of many in Ohio and the Great Lakes region over the lack of physical action to prevent the invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. These fish have dominated large stretches of the Mississippi River system since escaping from southern fish farms during a flood decades ago and are pushing toward the Great Lakes.

Under intense pressure from Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a report in January on the options for keeping the carp and other invasives out of the Great Lakes, but for many the report failed to identify the best solution or solutions, and did not adequately detail costs.

“That’s my frustration, that we still have so many options out there, and some of them don’t have costs attached to them either,” Portman said. “What we’re looking for is the best science, but also what the cost-benefit analysis was, because it’s expensive, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to sell some of our colleagues who don’t live on the Great Lakes on this, and why it’s so important.”

Portman said he and Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) have asked the Corps for a preferred option, and more input on the costs associated with the various options.

Captain Paul Pacholski, the president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association who had Portman out fishing on board “Erie Hopper” for a few hours Saturday afternoon, said he is pleased that Portman is taking the lead on the issues with the lake.

“He is an extremely good asset. He loves this lake,” Pacholski said. “He has proven himself a leader on these issues, and it’s not just lip service — he gets it.”

Pacholski also said it was reassuring to see so many different organizations and perspectives represented at the session with Portman, since it will take an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to address the list of issues threatening the lake.

“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We have to have everyone involved, and we have to look at every piece of the puzzle.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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