TIFFIN, Ohio — Farmers in Seneca County hold a complicated view of President Donald Trump’s proposal to drastically cut environmental and Great Lakes protection programs.
It’s an especially precarious time for Lake Erie’s future.
That’s according to Jeffrey Reutter, an aquatic biologist and limnologist from Ohio State University who has studied the lake since 1971.
It’s his belief that if we lose the EPA, we lose Lake Erie.
And while the Trump administration isn’t proposing a complete eradication of the department, The Washington Post this week reports that the White House is proposing to cut staff at the EPA by a fifth, and to cut its budget from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The political assault on Lake Erie got worse this week.
The dust had hardly settled from a leaked budget memo revealing the potential demise of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative when a second round of bad news arrived.
A four-page document obtained by The Washington Post showed the Trump administration has proposed cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual budget by nearly $1 billion, essentially destroying the agency’s forecasting and tracking system of toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie.
The proposed cuts also would potentially devastate NOAA’s Sea Grant College program – including Ohio State University’s iconic Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island near Put-in-Bay — that assists in tracking the algal blooms, helps to train the next generation of coastal experts, and provides on-the-ground support of sustainable fisheries and workforce development.
Combined, the cuts would greatly reduce scientists’ ability to track and prevent future algal blooms such as the one in 2014 that forced Toledo’s water system to be shut down for three days, said Jeff Reutter, the former director of Ohio Sea Grant.
Such cuts “would virtually guarantee jeopardizing the safety of the American public,” Rick Spinrad, NOAA’s former chief scientist, told the Post.
Blooms from fertilizer runoff cost the US economy about $2 billion a year.
On a weekend morning in the summer of 2014, the 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio, woke up to a stark warning: Don’t drink the tap water, and don’t wash dishes or bathe kids in it. The problem: An enormous algae bloom had floated over the city’s municipal water intake in Lake Erie, fouling the city’s water with a toxin that “causes cells to shrink, which causes blood to spill into the liver and can quickly lead to death,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lake Erie’s algae bloom was hardly a natural phenomenon—it was driven by the millions of acres of farmland that drain fertilizer-laced runoff into the lake, which in turn feed the annual poison-spewing blooms, which in turn force Toledo and other cities clustered around Lake Erie to spend millions of dollars per year in filtration efforts—which, as happened in 2014, sometimes fail.
Toxic algae blooms are a nationwide problem. In August 2016, no fewer than 19 states had to issue public health advisories because of them, according to the EPA. Annually, the damage they cause—everything from increased filtration costs to declines in fish populations—costs the US economy about $2 billion. Lake Erie, which provides water to 11 million people, is a particularly stark example of their ravages.