‘We’ve known for years this is critical’: Tackling Lake Erie toxic algae

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OREGON, Ohio -- Two weeks after toxic algae from Lake Erie tainted Toledo's drinking water, state lawmakers met Friday to discuss solutions.

The Lake Erie Caucus gathered before a packed room at Maumee Bay State Park near Toledo to hear statements from experts and the public.

“We’ve known for years this is critical. We have to do something to fix this,” said State Representative Nickie Antonio (D), District 13.

The meeting came two weeks after dangerous levels of the microcystin toxin turned up in Toledo's lake-based water supply.

It left tap water undrinkable, leading to a state of emergency. People lined up for bottled water for two days until given the all clear.

“There's no question that what happened in Toledo has elevated the debate and the discussion and perhaps an additional sense of urgency that we can all work together,” said State Sen. Randy Gardner, (R) District 2, who hosted Friday’s forum. “This is not just about the environment, not about fishing, not about tourism, not about the economy.

All those things are really important, but now it's about safe drinking water.”

Experts said nutrients from sewage discharge and farm fertilizers fuel the algae bloom's growth.

“We have to take some real proactive steps to remove that from our water source and the lake,” Antonio said.

A new state law, set to take effect in 2017, will require farmers using commercial fertilizers to receive training and certification.

Gov. John Kasich Thursday announced $150 million in zero interest loans for cities to improve water treatment plants. Some said current laws don’t go far enough.

“I think the crisis in Toledo shows that. So we obviously need stronger regulations, better regulations, and we need to be smart about them,” said Adam Rissien, Agriculture and Water Policy Director with the Ohio Environmental Council. “People should not have to worry about having safe and reliable drinking water.”

No direct action resulted from Friday’s meeting, but related legislation will likely be reviewed once the state legislative session resumes in the fall.

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