Report: Ohio's neighbors critical to Lake Erie

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Reducing pollution that feeds harmful algae in western Lake Erie needs the help of Ohio's neighbors, according to a state task force looking at ways to solve the growing problem.

A report released Wednesday by the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force recommends a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus that goes into northwest Ohio's rivers and streams that flow into Lake Erie.

Phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants feed the algae that leave behind toxins that can kill animals and foul drinking water. Ohio is seeking voluntary help from farmers and sewage plant operators and wants the recommendations in its report to be considered in Indiana and Michigan because rivers and streams in those states drain into the lake too.

"It's extremely critical," said Jeffrey Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant Program, which studies water quality issues.

Algae blooms during warm weather months in recent years have turned the lake's water into a pea soup color. They're a threat to the lake's tourism and fishing industries and toxins produced by the algae have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive.

Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels said solving the algae problem is a multi-state, multi-national issue.

An advisory agency said in August that the U.S. and Canada need to crack down on sources of phosphorus runoff. The International Joint Commission called for a ban on spreading manure on frozen or snow-covered ground and prohibiting nearly all use of phosphorus fertilizers for lawn care.

State and federal lawmakers will likely consider the Ohio panel's recommendations when deciding whether to add new regulations.

Ohio officials said Wednesday that more farmers are taking voluntary steps to reduce their use of fertilizers and that they are confident more will continue to do so as they learn about how the can curb runoff.

"We can fix our share of this issue," said Terry McClure, secretary of the Ohio Soybean Council.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture industry groups have been asking farmers over the past year to take proactive steps such as not using more fertilizer than needed before the government has a chance to impose restrictions.