COLUMBUS — The chief sponsor has confirmed that Senate Bill 1 will include a new effort to fight toxic algae and support clean drinking water.
Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), sponsor of the bill, has called for establishing a new Office of Harmful Algae Management and Response in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The office will work with local governments andwater treatment plants to coordinate Lake Erie support with other state agencies and departments.
In addition to the new focused effort, Gardner also said the legislation contains updated provisions to support agriculture’s role in working to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie and other inland lakes, summarizing the bill as a way to both “heal the lake and help the farm.”
The bill also contains, for the first time, an emergency clause to allow Senate Bill 1 to become effective on the day Governor John Kasich signs it.
“This legislation builds on the good work in the House of Representatives last November, but makes our commitment to cleaning up Lake Erie even stronger,” Gardner said. “There should be no question that Lake Erie is a major priority.”
Specifically, Senate Bill 1’s new Office of Harmful Algae Management and Response requires the EPA director to coordinate responsibilities with the departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Health and must consult with local governments and water treatment plant operators. The office must monitor water intakes and conduct in-lake testing for toxic algae in addition to providing support for testing, treatment and training for personnel at drinking water and wastewater plants.
“No matter how much progress is made in reducing phosphorus levels in the lake, we know our water treatment plants need and deserve our best efforts to support their mission to keep our drinking water safe,” Gardner said.
The bill also provides an update in Ohio’s Healthy Lake Erie Fund, a budget line item Gardner sponsored in 2012. The fund has provided money for monitoring the tributaries feeding into Lake Erie and grants for conservation measures to assist farmers in best management practices. Gardner said the new state budget will also be critical to make progress on the issue.
Among the key provisions in the bill in addition to the new Office of Harmful Algae and Management Response and the Healthy Lake Erie Fund Update are:
· Prohibition on applying manure and commercial fertilizer on frozen or saturated ground in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
· The goal of ending open-lake dumping of dredge materials in the lake in five years.
· Phosphorus monitoring of wastewater plants.
· The transfer of the Agriculture Pollution Abatement Program from the ODNR to the department of Agriculture.
· Several other provisions as passed by the House of Representatives under House Bill 490 in 2014.
The first hearing on the bill is Tuesday in the Senate Agriculture Committee, where Gardner said he anticipates strong bipartisan support and broad-based backing both from Lake Erie advocates and the agriculture community.
The Ohio Environmental Council issued a statement of support last week.
“This legislation is one of several actions that lawmakers need to take,” said Jack Shaner, OEC’s legislative director. “But it is a fundamental first step. We thank Senator Gardner and the Senate majority for helping make it a top priority this year.”
Gardner is joined by two other key sponsors of the bill, Senator Bob Peterson (R-Sabina) and Senator Cliff Hite (R-Findlay), who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senate leaders anticipate a vote in the full Senate in February.