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Board Again Sidelines Kasich's Order On Lake Erie Algae

Algae floats in the water at the Maumee Bay State Park marina in Lake Erie in Oregon, Ohio, on Sept. 15, 2017.
Paul Sancya
lgae floats in the water at the Maumee Bay State Park marina in Lake Erie in Oregon, Ohio, on Sept. 15, 2017.

A state panel again Thursday delayed implementation of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's plan to create new regulations on thousands of farms in a bid to reduce fertilizer and manure feeding Lake Erie's sometimes toxic algae blooms.

The decision by the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission came amid concerns over how the regulations would be put in place and amid pushback from the agriculture industry.

The delay is a blow to Kasich's attempt at taking a more aggressive approach against the persistent algae blooms before he leaves office at year's end.

By a 4-3 vote, the commission opted to wait on approving the plan until at least February to allow more time to establish rules overseeing the changes.

"Clearly it is going to take other avenues and other measures to achieve the protections we need, and we urge everyone who cares about water quality in Ohio and in the Great Lakes to come together to save the lake before it's too late," said Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling.

Kasich issued an executive order in July that called for issuing "distressed watershed" designations for eight creeks and rivers in northwestern Ohio. Those are the source of large amounts of phosphorus-rich fertilizer and manure.

The designations would require the owners of 7,000 farms across nearly 2 million acres to evaluate their land and make changes — some that could be costly and force farmers to buy expensive machinery that injects fertilizer into the ground or build storage for livestock manure.

But the plan needs the soil and water commission's approval.

Some of its members said Thursday that they know the matter needs addressing, but warned there are too many unknowns about the governor's proposal and how much it will cost.

Members of Kasich's administration urged the commission not to delay. It already had delayed immediate action in July by calling for a study of the issue after farmers and some legislative Republicans raised concerns.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler said research clearly shows that the eight areas targeted by the governor are the biggest contributors to the phosphorus that fuels the algae.

"Do not play politics with this issue," he told the commission.

For more than a decade, algae blooms on the lake's western end have been the cause of tainted drinking water, fish kills and beach closures. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for two days for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.