Portman, Faber meet with community leaders to discuss toxic algae

By Craig Kelly

March 15, 2014

CELINA — Wright State University Lake Campus hosted a meeting of the minds Saturday to discuss ongoing efforts to combat toxic algae blooms in Grand Lake as well as other bodies of water in the state.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, met with civic and community leaders, including state Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, the mayors of Celina and St. Marys, county commissioners and representatives from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the agriculture industry to share information and coordinate the attack on the bloom.

This comes after a bill co-sponsored by Portman putting more federal money into combating the algae passed the Senate and was introduced in the House of Representatives.

“In Washington, we’re trying to push legislation that gives more federal research and mitigation dollars back to local communities, particularly for fresh water,” Portman said. “There has been legislation in the past for salt water toxic algae blooms, and we’re trying to get some of that redirected. That legislation will help to have a better coordinated federal effort for funding.”

Specifically, this bill would allocate more than $20 million a year to funding the war on algae. While the size of the price tag may come as a surprise, Dr. Robert Hiskey, a biological sciences professor at Wright State said the problem of toxic algae is a global, rather than a regional, one.

“I was in Japan a couple of years ago,” he said. “There were presentations by Chinese researchers and, if you closed your eyes, you would think you were sitting in Grand Lake. They had exactly the same problems and challenges.”

Milt Miller, manager of the Grand Lake Restoration Commission, commented that while there have been a number of postive strides made, thanks to unprecedented cooperation at the state level, there are still some issues that need to be addressed.

“There have been a number of scientific and educational institutions coming in and studying our lake,” he said. “The problem is that there is no common depository for that information. They all go their separate ways and they may or may not pass along that information. There is a wealth of information out there, but it is scattered.”

Also, while efforts have been made to dredge the bottom of Grand Lake, removing sediment that for years has collected phosphorus and other nutrients that aid in algae growth, there are issues with where to deposit that sediment.

“Sometimes federal regulations get in our way,” he said.

Portman is hopeful to help make federal guidelines more flexible in this case.

“There’s a lot of material that’s in the sediment in the lake,” he said. “So I think we can help at the federal level to provide more flexibility on the regulations to ensure that the dredging can be done successfully.”

Portman is also hopeful that if federal grant money can be used in funding research at the lake, that would give the federal government an inroad into creating a more centralized database for that information.

“If it’s federally funded research, there would be a very clear access for us to say, ‘Let’s have this put in a central depository and make it available to everybody,’” he said. “I think Wright State University would be a good place for that information to be because they have the researchers and the experience here. This campus is right here on the lake. So we’re going to work on that.”

When it comes to combating toxic algae, whether it’s through research or actual cleaning of the lake, Faber emphasized the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective on this issue.

“The best line that I’ve heard with regard to this is that if anyone thinks that it’s take a matter of days, weeks, months or even years in the short term to fix the problems that have been created over 140 years, they are mistaken,” he said.

“This is a model for the state and the country,” Portman said. “Everyone’s got their oars in the water rowing the same direction toward the ultimate solution, which is having a lake without toxic algae blooms.”