As the snow continues to fall all over Ohio, sometimes it is hard to believe that very soon spring and summer will be here, and millions of Ohioans will flock with their families to our state’s lakes and rivers. But these resources are under threat. A rise in harmful algal blooms, if left unchecked, could render Ohio’s abundant fresh water resources unsafe for recreation as it has done on parts of Lake Erie’s shores and Grand Lake St. Marys. It could also endanger our drinking water as it has done recently at a reservoir in Columbus.
Fortunately, bipartisan legislation I introduced that recently passed the Senate is designed to help ensure that doesn’t happen.
On February 12, the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act passed the U.S. Senate. It will now move to the U.S. House of Representatives and, hopefully, on to the President for his signature. When it becomes law, our bill would strengthen the federal government’s research and response framework for harmful algal blooms.
This legislation is of critical importance to Ohio. Harmful algal blooms occur in waters where excessive growth of poisonous algae can cause illness or death in humans and wildlife, including food sources such as fish and shellfish. According to a recent NOAA report, the U.S. seafood and tourism industries suffer estimated annual losses of $82 million because of the economic impact of harmful algal blooms.
We’ve seen the impact in Ohio first-hand. In 2013, the City of Toledo was forced to spend $3 million to protect the city’s water supply from Lake Erie’s toxic algae, and Columbus spent $723,000 to address an algae outbreak at the Hoover Reservoir. It costs the city of Celina $450,000 annually to combat algae in Grand Lake St. Marys.
As money is going out, less is coming in. Communities are losing out on tourism dollars when they’re forced to close beaches because harmful algal blooms render it too hazardous to fish and swim. And it’s getting worse. The frequency and distribution of harmful algal blooms are growing. As families and businesses across Ohio continue to struggle during this time of economic uncertainty, we cannot afford to let this threat to our tourism, fishing industries, and health go unchecked. We must act now, before our lakes and rivers suffer irreparable damage.
My bill takes that needed action to protect Ohio’s freshwater treasures. Not only does this legislation reauthorize programs that have worked in the past, it improves them. Because of our efforts, for the first time, combating harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes and other freshwater bodies around Ohio and the nation will be prioritized. The bill streamlines and coordinates existing efforts to prevent harmful algal blooms by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and an array of other federal agencies, prioritizing the development of an action strategy that will help Ohio communities understand, predict, control, and mitigate algal blooms, enabling them to minimize any resulting economic, ecologic, and human health impacts.
Ohio’s lakes and rivers are truly one of our state’s greatest treasures. We have a duty to ensure that they are available for our kids and our grandkids to enjoy. Passing this legislation in the Senate is a good first step. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to move this bill to the President’s desk for his signature. Then we can get to work on making toxic algae in our state’s waterways a thing of the past.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator