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I have started a new column am calling Put-in-Bay Island Observations PIBIO. Here is the first column printed last month on the future of our great lake and our drinking water.

PIBIO(Put-in-Bay Island Observations)- is the sky falling?

On December 11, the Lake Erie Improvement Association headed by Jim Stouffer, held a forum on “Reducing Lake Erie Algae” at Catawba Island Club. This conference brought in experts from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Maryland sharing success stories and other critical information that will help inform us about the current state of water health in the western basin of Lake Erie. And more specifically the progress being made in Ohio and the tri-state region (and Ontario) on keeping Lake Erie safe to fish, boat, swim and drink.

“Chicken Little” may have been a victim of misinformation but we don’t need to be. It is critical that we understand exactly how Lake Erie and the Algal blooms affect us both financially and health wise. We know that Put-in-Bay’s economy is almost completely dependent on tourism. As we have seen in the not to distant past the unhealthy state of our drinking water and Lake Erie can drastically affect our Island overnight and for years to come.

2014 brought a “Do not drink” order to Toledo and the surrounding communities sharing the water Toledo treatment system. The impact of that short-term water ban is still being calculated. But Dr. Andrew Solocha, University of Toledo, has been collecting data on the effects that ban had on the Toledo economy. As Dr Solocha pointed out large corporations and small businesses alike were deeply impacted. Restaurants had to close. Bakeries had to stop production. Pepsi was shut down as was a critical flourmill owned by Nabisco. Who wants to visit an area with bad water or eat in the restaurants that use that water for their food? The loss of tourism may be permanent.
According to Dr. Jeff Reutter, OSU Sea Grant, there are many reasons why that Algal Bloom caused the shut down in 2014 and not in 2015 (even though we had a higher concentration of Algae in 2015). All this is part of a complex discussion that is termed by some as a “Farm to Faucet” process, which includes sewage treatment, dairy production, livestock and agricultural crops impact on the influx of phosphorus into the watershed.

The “nutrient overload” that causes harmful Algal Blooms is influenced by rain and other production practices in use in our water shed areas. Reutter discussed how there is agreement among the three states (Ohio, Indiana and Michigan) that by 2025 there needs to be a 40% reduction in unabsorbed nutrients that flow into the lake. The western basin is shallow and can clean itself much more quickly than the central basin, but the legacy phosphorus in the soils and watershed could take years to disappear. There is a need now to create a region wide baseline to measure against so that a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) can be included in that ten-year plan.

Since we have almost no agriculture or other major single source of nutrient inflow into Lake Erie here in Put-in-Bay (although our personal contributions to the island the Sewage Treatment plant are measurable) it is more difficult for us to see how we can make any lake wide change in the phosphorus levels in Lake Erie. But we can be come more vigilant about the conditions and laws that will affect us.

With the help of advocate groups like LEIA, The State of Ohio passed two laws, SB 1 and 150 both provide some base line restrictions, education, and regulatory oversight on how farmers utilize safe nutrient spreading practices especially in critical no spread seasons. The Ohio Farm Bureau has now initiated many voluntary programs that help promote progressive farming methods and better best practice use of fertilizers.

So what can we do? Follow the Manure. One dairy cow produces 23 times the waste of a human. We need to have better regulations on the manure spreading that is generated by CAFOS (Concentrated animal feeding operations), dairies and livestock producers and we need to promote innovative new technologies to use these wastes. This is a state wide, regional, and national problem. We need to fund the farm production changes with “Flush fees” or an Ohio bond issue now being advocated by our State representative Randy Gardner to cover costs of the implementation of these new progressive methods to reduce the amount of excess nutrients not absorbed by plants and soils. We need to lower out put levels generated by point source producers like CAFOS and Sewage Treatment plants. There is no option except to succeed. The alternative is the loss of our greatest local resource, Lake Erie.

We depend on the EPA and other organizations like Healthy Water Ohio and activist groups like LEIA to inform and protect us. But we need to remember going forward that our good drinking water is the “gold” of our island economy. Keeping our drinking water safe from algae microcystin should be top priority of our islands business efforts. Lets secure and promote our clean safe water. If Chicken Little had taken time to be better informed, Foxy Loxy would have gone hungry! In Put-in-Bay we need to be proactive and protect our selves from being the “end loser” in this discussion.

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