Rep. Marcy Kaptur asks EPA to declare that western Lake Erie is "impaired"

Rep. Marcy Kaptur asks EPA to declare that western Lake Erie is "impaired"
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Sabrina Eaton

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Toledo Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur and a Michigan colleague on Tuesday asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate western Lake Erie "impaired" under the Clean Water Act.

That designation would aid remediation of the lake's harmful algae blooms that threaten drinking water.

The letter from Kaptur and Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell notes that Michigan included Lake Erie on a list of impaired waters it submitted to the EPA, but Ohio didn't.

They say the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's failure to declare the western lake "impaired" could keep EPA from using the Clean Water Act to develop a plan to stop phosphorous from getting into the lake and fostering algae growth.

The law requires states to submit a list of "impaired" waters to the U.S. EPA every year and for the states to calculate the maximum pollution amounts the designated water bodies can receive, Kaptur's office says.

"An impairment designation for the Western Basin of Lake Erie by Ohio EPA is an essential step in an effective response to managing excessive phosphorous, the root cause of harmful algal blooms," the legislators' letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says. "We urge you to use your legal authority under the Clean Water Act to bring Ohio's list into alignment with the State of Michigan as an important step in addressing this public health threat."

Their actions follow similar impairment requests from environmental groups.

Cameron Davis, a senior adviser to McCarthy, said EPA is concerned about harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and is "taking numerous steps to address water quality through the bipartisan Great Lakes Restoration initiative and binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement."

"We are reviewing all of the available information - including Michigan's list, Reps. Kaptur's and Dingell's letter and all science - to continue to make progress on nutrient reductions," said Davis.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said her agency has put Lake Erie's shoreline and the area around drinking water intakes on the state's list of impaired water bodies, but not waters of the open lake.

Agency officials don't oppose making impairment designations, but believe there isn't any "consistent, defendable and appropriate" way to do so beyond its shoreline and and drinking water in-takes.

"We will not discuss or propose further listings until there are scientific tools, not political pressure, driving this debate," said a September letter that OEPA Division of Surface Water Chief Tiffani Kavalec sent to the U.S. EPA.

Griesmer added that Ohio has spent more than $3.6 billion since 2011 to improve water quality, but the state believes collaboration with the other jurisdictions that surround the lake are needed to reduce phosphorus levels. She said the state is committed to making reductions called for in the multi-jurisdictional Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

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