Jim Hefner: More time needed to solve Lake Erie’s ongoing problems

By Jim Hefner - Guest Columnist

This is in regards to the editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, reprinted by The Lima News on July 31 (Lake Erie can’t afford to wait for panel’s decision) concerning the Ohio Soil and Water Commission’s decision to refer to a committee for further study the designation of eight watersheds in the Western Lake Erie watershed as impaired.

I was in attendance at that meeting on the 19th. I did not testify nor speak but only observed the proceedings. You could almost hear the train as Gov. John Kasich’s administration tried to railroad this executive order through the commission.

It reminded me of Rep. Nancy Pelosi saying we need to pass Obamacare so we can see what is in it. This was apparent as ODA Director David Daniels had to leave the room three times with his advisors and counsel to come up with an answer to questions from the commission. He obviously didn’t understand what the implications of this executive order would do immediately upon passage and was ill-prepared to present his case.

As for the $20 million approved via Senate Bill 229, that is just a drop in the bucket to what this designation would ultimately cost. Just look at the $40 million being poured into the money pit beside Simmons Field in Lima, into a project that is not going to completely solve the issue being addressed. They spent more money ($30 million is the number floated that day) on Grand Lake St Marys to address the algae problem and studied the rules they were going to implement there for a year. Lake Erie is a much bigger problem, and Kasich wanted to do this in days.

There were stakeholders that testified holding a glass jar of lake water which was about half full or more of gunk. I appreciate what they are seeing in their water, but I had just returned from a trip where we toured a 150-year old cemetery that had a dozen or so bodies of water. Almost everyone of them had the same slimy algae in them to the point it looked like you could walk across them, with nary a farm or animal feeding operation for miles. Folks, algae happens.

Other numbers I heard that day included $3.5 billion already spent in the Lake Erie watershed on water quality by the EPA, NRCS, the state, cities and municipalities. Some claim over 80 percent of the problem is caused by agricultural activities, but only 1 percent of the $3.5 billion already spent has gone to agriculture projects.

Agriculture accepts that it is a part of the problem and is ready to be a part of the solution. But it is going to take more staffing for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to write nutrient management plans, more staffing for the Extension Service to do the research and disseminate the results of what is the best approach to the problem. Both of these agencies in Allen County have been underfunded locally and statewide to do the job the citizens are asking them to do.

I applaud the Soil and Water Commission’s decision to take a time out, step back and get a game plan together. Should I be asked, I am willing to offer input, and I invite others with a stake in the situation to do the same.

The lake did not get in this condition overnight, and it will not be restored overnight by hastily passed rules and regulations.


By Jim Hefner

Guest Columnist

Jim Hefner lives near Lima.

Jim Hefner lives near Lima.

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