Portman algae bill waiting for House

By Heather Rutz, civitasmedia.com
27 February 2014

WASHINGTON — A bill that would put more federal money into combating algae blooms has passed the Senate and been introduced in the House.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, co-sponsored the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013, which would reauthorize the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, first enacted in 1998 and reauthorized in 2004 and 2008.

The new version of the bill includes more funding, more than $20 million a year, compared with the most recent version of $13 million a year, Portman said Thursday. It also includes a greater focus on freshwater bodies, which will help Ohio, and improves cooperation among agencies on the issue.

“It’s a public health and an economic issue. … I’m really hopeful that by focusing on the freshwater that this will help Ohio more. It also has some specific changes that we think are good, increasing inter-agency coordination with EPA, supports national programs that will help develop some of the prevention techniques we’re looking for for freshwater blooms,” Portman said.

Grand Lake, in Mercer and Auglaize counties, has been plagued by toxic algae since federal officials discovered it there in 2009. Annual warnings have hurt the local tourism economy. Also called cyanobacteria, blue-green algae are common in most lakes. In the shallow Grand Lake, algae has grown thick feeding on phosphorus from manure and fertilizers that rain washes from nearby farm fields. The algae produces liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and kill pets and fish.

People in the region, including farmers and other business owners and residents have worked together and used government funding and privately raised funds to address the issue, partly through pilot projects. Other bodies of water in Ohio, such as Lake Erie, have also been damaged by the blooms. While fishing last year on Lake Erie, Portman said he ran into one of those blooms.

“It’s impossible to fish there,” Portman said. “It affects the species of fish that are most fished, and has an economic impact on commercial fishing and tourism.”

Total costs over the past few decades from fish kills, human illness, and loss of tourism and fisheries revenue in the U.S. has been estimated at over $1 billion. The frequency and distribution of harmful blooms have increased considerably across the U.S. in recent years, negatively affecting all coastal and Great Lakes states and numerous other inland states.

Visitors to Ohio’s Lake Erie region spend more than $10.7 billion annually, which amounts to nearly 30 percent of Ohio’s total tourism dollars. Regional tourism also supports more than 100,000 jobs in northern Ohio and generates $750 million in state and local taxes.