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County commissioners to put water sustainability plan in place

LUCAS COUNTY, OH (Toledo News Now) -

Lucas County commissioners are taking new steps to protect the water after a special meeting was held Thursday.

The commissioners say they will need help from state and federal leaders to implement a program that will protect northwest Ohio's drinking water. They're calling on the federal government to adopt a plan put together by the International Joint Commission (IJC), and to start making changes.

The plan lists 16 things that can be done to protect the water, including banning phosphorous fertilizers, requiring septic system inspections, and increasing water monitoring stations.

"Scientists know what the problem is," said Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. "Now it's an opportunity for the state and local government to do their part and to provide that assistance to protect the lake."

The commissioners will also be putting a local sustainability plan into place immediately to find out where pollutants are.

But it's not just about the water source. Commissioners say we need to focus on the treatment facility, as well. They say they'll be funding a study to look at the possibility of a new regional plant.

"That plant was virtually built in the ‘30s and has tried to be maintained for 70 or 80 years," said Commissioner Pete Gerken. "They probably need some help."

Commissioners say this isn't just about our drinking water. They say the lake's condition and water quality impacts our economy as a whole, and it's important to take care of it.

From the IJC plan:

The IJC established theLake Erie Ecosystem Priority (LEEP) in 2012 to tackle problems in Lake Erie asa result of phosphorous, climate change and invasive species.

LEEP released a report oftheir findings after a study of the lake. In that 100-page report, LEEP offeredadvice on how federal and regional governments in the United States and Canadacan adopt policies to reduce nutrient loads and restore Lake Erie's ecosystem.

Based on theLEEP study's analysis and key findings, the IJC recommends the following actions:

Setting Phosphorus Reduction Targets

1. TheGovernments of the United States and Canadashould adopt new targets for maximum acceptablephosphorus loadings in Lake Erie:

• to reducethe frequency and severity of harmful algal bloomsin the western Lake Erie Basin to anacceptable level (None/Mild blooms), the totalphosphorus load target for the Maumee River for thespring (March-June) period should beestablished as 800 metric tonnes (MT), a 37% reductionfrom the 2007-2012 average; for dissolvedreactive phosphorus, the target for the spring periodshould be 150 MT, a 41% decrease from the2007-2012 average; extended over the course of afull year, the total phosphorus target should be1,600 MT, a 39% decrease from the 2007-2012average;

• when therest of the watersheds in the western Lake ErieBasin are included, the total phosphorus load targetfor the spring should be 1,600 MT and thedissolved reactive phosphorus target should be 300MT; extended over the course of a full year,the total phosphorus target should be 3,200 MT;

• to decreasethe central Lake Erie Basin hypoxic area by 50%to about 2,000 km2 (772 mi2) and 10 hypoxicdays a year, the target total phosphorus load for thewestern basin and central basin shouldbe 4,300 MT, a 46% reduction from the 2003-2011observed average load and 56% below thecurrent target;

• whenexpressed as annual dissolved reactive phosphorusload, the target for achieving the same hypoxicarea (2,000 km2) and number of hypoxic days(10) in the central Lake Erie Basin should be 550MT. This new level represents a 78%reduction from the 2005-2011 average dissolved reactivephosphorus load; and,

• totalphosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus targetsshould be phased in over a nine-year period(2014-2022) by setting transitional targets on athree-year basis to coincide with the triennial cycle andassessment of progress outlined in the 2012Agreement.

2. Toestablish and implement new targets of phosphorus loadings:

• thegovernments of the United States and Canada shoulddevelop domestic action plans including bothregulatory and non-regulatory measures to reducenutrient pollution of Lake Erie sooner than the 2018goal set in the 2012 Agreement;

• thegovernments of Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvaniaand Ontario should apply a public trustframework consisting of a set of important common lawlegal principles shared by both countries, asan added measure of protection for Lake Eriewater quality; governments should apply thisframework as an added decision-making tool in policies,permitting and other proceedings; and,

• thegovernments of Michigan and Ohio should, under the United States Clean Water Act, list the waters of thewestern basin of Lake Erie as impairedbecause of nutrient pollution; this would trigger thedevelopment of a tri-state phosphorus total maximumdaily load (TMDL) involving those statesand Indiana, with U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency oversight.

Reducing Phosphorus Loading into Lake Erie from Agricultural Sources and Septic Systems

3. TheGovernments of the United States, Canada, Ontario,Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and NewYork should immediately expand the focus ofexisting and planned incentive-based agri-environmentalprograms beyond particulate phosphorusto include an emphasis on best managementpractices that are most likely to reducedissolved reactive phosphorus, such as reducingthe amount of phosphorus applied to fields,slowing the movement of water to the fielddrainage system, and detaining flows at field drainageoutlets.

4. Futurephosphorus management efforts of the Governmentsof the United States, Canada, Ontario, Michigan,Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Yorkshould focus on:

• avoidingagricultural applications of phosphorus in autumn;

• reducingthe load delivered during the spring period (March1 to June 30); and,

• thosesub-watersheds that are delivering the mostphosphorus into the lake, including the Maumee River.

5. TheGovernments of the United States, Canada, Ontario,Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Yorkand local agencies should increase the scale andintensity of agricultural best management practicesprograms that have been shown to reducephosphorus runoff.

6. TheGovernments of the United States, Canada, Ontario,Michigan and Ohio should:

• commit tothe goal of a 10% increase by 2030 beyondcurrent levels of coastal wetland areas in the westernbasin of Lake Erie to reduce nutrient pollution andpromote biodiversity (an increase of about1,053 ha or 2,600 acres);

• allocateadequate funding to support this significant first step incoastal wetland restoration, in concert withnon-governmental funders; and,

• set ascience-based goal for protection and restorationof wetlands inland from the Lake Erie coastal zoneand develop appropriate strategies to meet thegoal.

7. TheGovernments of the United States, Canada, Ontario,Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and NewYork should strengthen and increase the use ofregulatory mechanisms of conservation farmplanning to reduce nutrient loadings.

8. TheGovernments of the United States, Canada, Ontario,Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and NewYork should accelerate 4Rs (Right source,Right rate, right time and right place) outreach/extensionprograms, and phase in mandatorycertification standards for agrology advisors,retailers and applicators to ensure fertilizeris applied based on the 4Rs.

9. UnitedStates and Canadian federal policies shouldlink the cost and availability of crop insurance purchasesor premiums to farm conservation planningand implementation of nutrient managementpractices.

10. TheGovernments of Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio,Pennsylvania and New York should ban theapplication of manure, biosolids and commercial fertilizerscontaining phosphorus from agriculturaloperations on frozen ground or groundcovered by snow for lands that drain to Lake Erie.

11. TheGovernments of Ontario and Michigan should:

• enactlegislation requiring inspection of septic systems at regularintervals, and at the time of property saleor land severance, to identify and assureupgrade/replacement of failing and potentially failingsystems; and,

• expandstate/provincial and community education initiativespromoting homeowner awareness of the need forseptic system maintenance, including regularpumpout, and upgrade/replacement.

Reducing Phosphorus Loading into Lake Erie from Urban Sources

12. TheGovernments of the United States, Canada, Ontario,Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvaniashould work with municipalities to promoteand accelerate the use of green infrastructure(such as filter strips, rain gardens, bio-swales,and engineered wetlands) in urban stormwatermanagement in the Lake Erie Basin by:

• providingfunding, regulatory direction and technicalsupport to municipalities and, where feasible andappropriate as an alternative to more expensivestormwater controls, authorize green infrastructurein United States municipal water dischargepermits and Ontario environmental complianceapprovals; and,

• encouragingthe adoption of local ordinances/bylaws promotinggreen infrastructure.

13. TheGovernments of Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvaniashould prohibit the sale and use ofphosphorus fertilizers for lawn care, with theexception of the establishment of new lawnsduring the first growing season or in caseswhere soil testing indicates a need for phosphorus.

Strengthening Monitoring and Research in the Lake Erie Basin

14. TheGovernments of the United States and Canadashould commit sustained funding to enhanceand maintain monitoring networks in the LakeErie Basin, focusing on:

• tributariesthroughout the Lake Erie Basin, including keysub-basins and wet weather events to capture seasonaldifferences from a wider range of basintributaries;

• dissolvedreactive phosphorus which, in addition to totalphosphorus and other parameters, will need to beregularly monitored at all appropriate sites;

• establishmentof water quality monitoring stations to quantifythe nutrient dynamics from Lake Huron through St.Clair River and Lake St. Clair;

•establishment of a continuous, long-term water qualitymonitoring system at the outlet of the Detroit Riverthat measures critical nutrient parameters; and,

• anevaluation of the cumulative effectiveness of urban andrural best management practices.

15. TheGovernments of the United States and Canadashould support research to strengthen understandingof:

• the dynamicsof harmful algal blooms through a comprehensivelimnological approach to studying entire bloomcommunities;

• howopen-lake disposal of dredged sediments from theToledo navigational channel affects phosphorusloadings in Lake Erie;

•environmentally sustainable methods of sediment disposal;

• how variousfactors, such as the interaction of lake waterwith land-based runoff and tributary discharges,can be used to predict the conditions associatedwith nuisance blooms under current and futureclimate change scenarios;

• how LakeErie's diverse and productive fish communitiescould respond under the warming trends andaltered precipitation patterns associated withcontinued climate change; and,

• theeconomic effects of Lake Erie algal blooms throughoutthe entire lake basin.

16. TheGovernments of the United States and Canada andorganizations involved in lake managementshould improve data management through greater coordination and sharing.

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