After months of debate, Ohio lawmakers said Tuesday they have finalized legislation designed to curb toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie.
Senate Bill 1 includes a number of new rules designed to reduce phosphorus (P) runoff that the algae feed on, including fertilizer restrictions on Northwest Ohio farmers, limits on dumping dredging material in Lake Erie and increased water treatment plant monitoring.
The Ohio House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee sent the legislation to the House floor Tuesday afternoon after a final round of tinkering with the bill.
Rep. Brian Hill, a Zanesville Republican who chairs the committee, told reporters Tuesday he anticipates the legislation will be passed by the Ohio General Assembly without further changes.
State legislators have been debating for months about how best to address the toxic blooms, which led Toledo to ban drinking water for 3 days last summer. The debate has pitted Northern Ohio water users and environmental groups against agricultural interests wary of how new regulations would affect them.
The version of SB 1 reported out of the House committee includes provisions on a number of issues, including:
A fertilizer and manure ban: The bill would prohibit the spreading of fertilizer and manure on frozen and saturated soil in the Western Lake Erie basin. The ban is designed to reduce the amount of phosphorus from fertilizer and manure that is washed downstream into Lake Erie.
Farmers could also only apply manure from an animal feeding facility if they have received training and state certification. Violators could be fined as much as $10,000 per offense, and each day a farm isn't in compliance with the new rules would be considered a separate violation.
However, operators of small- and medium-sized farms could get exemptions of up to 2 years and 1 year, respectively, to come into compliance with the new rules.
Lake Erie dredging limits: SB 1, as written, would prohibit the dumping of dredge material in Lake Erie by 2020, except when the director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approves it for projects such as wildlife restoration.
Wastewater treatment rules: Starting in 2016, large water treatment facilities would have to begin monthly monitoring of P levels.
The bill also calls for the Ohio EPA director to consult with state and local officials, as well as wastewater treatment plants, to monitor and protect against toxic bacteria. Under the legislation, state lawmakers would revisit the rules in 3 years to assess whether they're working.
The initial version of SB1 included an emergency clause, meaning the bill would take effect as soon as Gov. John Kasich signs it. But the current version of the legislation contains no such clause, meaning it would become law 90 days after the governor signs it.
Hill said removing the emergency clause will help farmers avoid having to quickly adjust to the new rules with just a couple weeks left before spring planting starts.
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