WASHINGTON — A bill that would put more federal money into combating algae blooms cleared the U.S. House last week after passing in the Senate earlier this year.
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 — $20 million a year — compared with the most recent version of $13 million a year, Portman said previously. It also includes a greater focus on freshwater bodies, which will help Ohio, and improves cooperation among agencies on the issue.
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.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, said this week the re-authorization of the program will expand research efforts to monitor and combat algal blooms while helping to protect the tourism and fishing industries associated with Lake Erie and other freshwater lakes.
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.
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.