By the Dayton Daily News | Sunday, August 8, 2010, 12:00 AM
Gov. Ted Strickland made a splash at the dead Grand Lake St. Marys — not in the water, of course, lest he come down with something deadly.
Just politically speaking.
He brought high-ranking state officials with him, and he promised there’d be new regulations on farms that are fouling the water with the phosphorous that spawns toxic algae blooms.
The day after his July 30 visit, U.S. Rep. John Boehner also met with residents and local officials. He promised he’d ride the U.S. Agriculture Department about contributing money to help mitigate the environmental debacle that has forced people off of the water and is literally destroying a local economy.
You might ask: If this is all it took to get things on track, why weren’t these things done sooner?
Well, this isn’t all it’s going to take, and actually there wasn’t anything of significance accomplished by the politicians stopping by.
The regulations that Gov. Strickland touted aren’t scheduled to take effect for two years. That means that farmers can keep spreading manure on frozen crop land, sending phosphorous-laced runoff into the creeks that connect with Ohio’s largest inland lake. They will be encouraged to adopt practices that control the runoff, but they wouldn’t be ordered to — not yet anyway.
Rep. Boehner’s support for $1 million in emergency funding didn’t take any special effort, and, anyway, that’s not even a down payment on what it will cost to clean up the lake.
It’s an amazing thing to have a lake die and to have an entire community living with the smell of death. This is not a noxious pond that we’re talking about. It’s a 13,500-acre reservoir that has been supporting an estimated $200-million annual tourist industry.
It’s just Gov. Strickland’s bad luck that he’s in charge of the state when this happened. Of all of Ohio’s contemporary governors, he’s been in office the shortest amount of time during the period that this problem has been building. Literally, the state and its regulators have been on notice for years, even decades, about the threat.
While to blame him would be ridiculous, the governor can’t ride into town and suggest he wants to help, but then give in to pleas by agri-business and farmers that they need time to figure out how to install filters and store their animals’ manure.
They have known that this day was coming. They’ve known that nationally the pressure is on to prevent agricultural runoff because it’s threatening the water quality in rivers and oceans. Time’s up in Ohio.
One good thing that’s going on is that people are proposing ideas and reaching out to experts. There are debates about massive chemistry experiments involving alum and other concoctions to counteract the phosphorous. People are challenging the state’s notion that dredging is out of the question (because it’s too expensive), suggesting that it might be part of the solution. Good, hard questions are being asked.
Because people are so angry and scared about the jobs that are drying up, the drop in their property values and the possibility that a stunning resource could be destroyed for decades or even forever, there’s finally a sense of urgency.
But let’s be clear: While the Grand Lake St. Marys community has to do its part to understand the options, to identify technical experts and to have the conversations that promote public education, it doesn’t have the money to pay for any remedies. That will have to come from the very governments that didn’t want to push the farming operations in Mercer and Auglaize counties to stop harming others’ livelihoods, property and possibly their health.
Wait two years to stop the practices that fouled this lake? Allow people to keep doing the very thing that is costing taxpayers money that they shouldn’t have to pay in the first place?
The governor, agricultural lobbyists and the farm owners can’t be serious.